5 Uses for Thermal Imaging Devices

By Mark Butler

The fundamentals of thermal imaging are simple. Thermal imaging captures heat signatures, or images, which are invisible to the naked eye. Because all objects emit some amount of radiation, thermal imaging can make a heat signature visible to anyone. This technology was first utilized on a large scale in World War 2, when British anti-aircraft weaponeers used thermal imaging radars to detect German bombers. Since then, thermographic technology has rapidly developed, becoming one of the most important scientific innovations in the history of mankind. Equally potent during day or night, you may not realize how thermal imaging plays a role in everyday life.

A bowhunter with a Pulsar thermal monocular

First Responders

All citizens should want police, firemen and other emergency services to have the best technology available if they ever need to save your life. In the past 20 years, as thermal oculars become more powerful and widespread, there have been numerous instances of thermals making the difference between life and death. An elderly gentleman, who got lost in a field in Brownsville, Texas, was ultimately located by Search-and-Rescue workers using a thermal drone (Full story here). Another time, a Nebraska man was driving down a rural road in the dead of night when he stopped at an intersection and heard distant cries for help from a nearby field. Unable to see anything, he extracted his Pulsar Trail XP50 riflescope and peered into the gloom. He was instantly able to see a wrecked vehicle and three people trapped inside. He quickly called 9-1-1, and in the end, all three survived, which would have been highly unlikely without the quick-thinking Samaritan and his Pulsar Trail XP50 riflescope (Full story here). More dramatically, fire departments across the country have been investing in thermal imaging to assist firefighters searching for victims, often children, who may be hiding in closets or under beds away from the flames and smoke (Read about one such instance here).    


Thermal imaging is also a valuable tool for ranchers and farmers. For owners of large properties, keeping account of livestock is akin to a Wall Street banker keeping track of stock portfolios. Every animal is worth money, and it’s impossible to watch them all 24 hours a day. Some animals wander to different properties, fall into a ditch, get killed by coyotes or wolves, or are even poached or stolen. For a responsible rancher, locating your livestock can be as simple as ascending a hill or overlook, pulling out your pocket-sized Pulsar Axion XM30S monocular, and scanning the area. Without thermal imaging, locating and counting those animals, and potential threats, would be nigh impossible. To go further, thermal imaging has been shown to be a noninvasive way to measure temperatures in livestock, allowing ranchers to quickly identify disease or pregnancy in their animals (Read about it here).     

A hunter with a Pulsar Trail

Law Enforcement

Any police officer who has worked at night, been on a stakeout, or chased a suspect on foot could appreciate the assistance of a thermal imaging device. Usually, these devices are attached to spotlights of squad cars and connected to the officer’s car laptop – essentially giving them a second set of special eyes to locate someone who just committed a crime and are evading the police. The same rule goes for illegal firearms – if they’ve been recently discharged, and a suspect tries to get rid of the firearm in a trash bin or ditch, the heat from the firearm would be quickly detected by thermal imaging technology. In one remarkable case, federal agents used a camera with thermal imaging to ferret out a marijuana-growing operation, and with those images, they acquired a warrant to arrest the suspect. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled the agents had violated the suspect’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches, but they left the possibility open for more arrests in the future, albeit with a probable cause stipulation (Read about that case here). 

A man with thermal binoculars


Hunting with thermal imaging equipment is legal in the USA, but shooters should always check with their state’s specific laws. Some states restrict the use of artificial lighting, the types of animals which may be hunted, or determined certain activities are only permissible on private property. For thermal imaging, some states require a permit. Before hunting, it is crucial to check with your local game warden before heading off into the bush (A quick-check guide is available here) (The official US website is here). If you’re not hunting, spotting and stalking are generally permissible with thermal imaging equipment.

Pulsar Axion XM30S

Building Inspection

Thermal imaging cameras can also be used in home and building inspections. They are highly effective at locating trapped moisture, water leaks, air flow, insulation and electrical problems (Read about it here). Additionally, thermal imaging cameras are non-invasive, so there’s no need to rip up drywall, floorboards or anything else when you’re using them on a building. With a product like the Pulsar Axion XM30S, you could easily and routinely inspect your home, possibly saving yourself thousands of dollars in repairs.  

Thermal imaging technology has been changing the world for nearly a century, and its uses will likely continue to grow and evolve. There are environmental factors, of course, which may limit your thermal imaging’s ability to function: Excessive humidity, fog and snow are just a few factors which may affect your thermal imager’s performance. However, for emergency service personnel, ranchers and farmers, police, hunters and building inspectors, or anyone who needs to detect a heat signature, thermal imaging is an invaluable tool. And if you’re going to invest in thermal imaging, why not invest in the best? The Pulsar Axion XM30S is a top-line thermal imager with instant start-up, long-detection range, 8-display color palettes and video and still-photo recording. In the industry of thermal imaging, the Pulsar Axion XM30S is a top-notch product.