Dan Julio was sick of corporate life. With his experience in software development and firmware design, Julio began his consultancy, Dan Julio Designs, and quickly was picked up for several projects, including an installation at Burning Man. In between his consultations, Julio developed the tCam-Mini, a thermal imaging camera that can be accessible to many users with its open-sourced design.
How to Get the tCam-Mini
Here at GroupGets, we're excited to be partnering with Julio. With the latest revision to the device (version 4), Julio has packed this newest iteration with features capable of connecting to an iOS and desktop apps and using an antenna to plug onto a drone.
For a limited time only, we have also bundled the tCam-Mini into a group buy campaign:
- Unit Deliverable: One tCam-Mini Rev 4 with a case, GoPro compatible tripod mount, and FLIR Lepton FS
- Unit Price: $159.99
- Campaign Part: #GG-P-1033
- Availability: Campaign Active, ends when the minimum unit count reached
- Factory Lead Time: 5 days
Options & Add-Ons:
We sat down with Julio to learn more about his prolific career, answer questions from backers, address the newest features, and see what's coming next for Julio and entry-level, thermal imaging. Check out the interview below and the abridged transcript to learn more about the device and how you can back the campaign.
How and why did you create the tCam-Mini?
I began consulting to feed myself and that just led to a variety of different opportunities. Somewhere along the line, I got interested in thermal imaging. I guess I saw some article about someone who built something with the Lepton and I bought the breakout board from GroupGets because that was the only place you could get it!
I started playing with that and I went through a whole series of designs. I used two microprocessors, the Raspberry Pi and the Beagle for Black. And I finally settled on this piece: ESP32.
I think the thermal imaging is really kind of amazing to be able to see it is this crazy temperature measurement, and so I just ended up doing these things and I had and I thought along the way I always wanted to make my own thermal imaging camera.
So I do this mixture of making stuff for myself and others, and then I make it available to people through crowdfunded campaigns or just releasing the designs and then stuff for other people.
What kind of projects do you consult on?
The whole Maker Movement really plays into what projects I take on. I've been a part of it since I joined Boulder's maker space, Solid State Depot in Boulder, Colorado.
One time, this guy came in with a hand-built prototype of a hydration system for motocross racers. They all don't want to use a CamelBak nipple on their lip the whole time because of the vibration, so he had this idea that the helmet would have a little nozzle and you press a button and open your mouth and you'd get a blast of water.
He was not a technical person at all, but he had gone online and researched enough with Arduino and motors and batteries and he had together this little thing that showed his idea and I thought was just amazing. He was looking for someone to help him, and so I connected with him and ended up designing this system for him that he took to market, which was a tiny button that fit on the handlebars of the bike and then a backpack of water that would deliver bursts of water with every press of the button!
In another project I was involved in, the U.S. Forest Service laboratory contacted me and wanted a custom camera to help produce mathematical models about how fires affect types of trees. He would put a bunch of them around the burn site and would record the whole fire. And all that data went into mathematical models he constructed so that he can analyze the burns.
Actually, that was sort of the impetus behind the tCam-Mini being released because I saw that in addition to people wanting pretty pictures from thermal imaging, people could use the radiometric data for their own homes by scanning for insulation issues or on their roof! The t-Cam was designed first and foremost to deliver the data, but of course, you have to be able to visualize it so they all can show pictures. The core is the radiometric data file.
What other applications can the tCam-Mini be used for?
As far as data collection, I reason engineers like me would want to use it when designing a circuit board. I also think it's useful for an industrial setting and power supply applications since I have used it for solar charging systems.
Within the application of drones, users want to look at things from the air to monitor wildlife hiding in the thickets or even fly over a house for leaks in the roof.
In all, this is an inexpensive way for people to use a FLIR product with the Lepton FS.
What can we expect in the newest revision (V4)?
I made updates for two reasons: 1. I wanted to make it cheaper, and 2. to make possible the "tCam." It would be a real camera that you can plug in a micro SD card. It could then wireless offload pictures onto the desktop application. This brought me to the creation of the gCore. I wanted to make it easy for people to make this camera, I wanted to have a layout that would have all the code related to thermal imaging on the tCam-Mini and have a new hardware interface.
The gCore could have a million other uses and I also have a ton of demos for it. It is a victim of the "Great Parts Shortage", so it's a matter of getting parts to manufacture the boards. The design is complete and it works, it's just a matter of getting enough material to manufacture the boards.
Backer Question: What is the power supply?
The board itself can be powered anywhere from between 3.6 and 5.0 volts, and people have successfully powered the board using a small battery connected to the 5-volt input on the back of the board and or even a USB charge battery pack.
Backer Question: When will the devices be available?
This was more of a GroupGets question! Since the publication of this article, the campaign is 50% funded. The product is available at our headquarters, so we just need 5 more people to back the campaign to begin shipping!
What's the next best type of board to use?
If they don't want to buy the pre-made PCB, then you need a development board that has an ESP32-Wrover module. That module should have the Revision 3, ESP32 Silicon. There are a lot of boards out there on Amazon and AliExpress. Then you would use the GroupGets Lepton breakout board to then wire that to the ESP32 and have your own camera.
Is it possible to use an older camera model than the Lepton 3.0?
Currently, it's not possible. The 2.0 is a quarter of the resolution. I optimized the code to support the higher resolution with 3.0 and 3.5.
[You can do a feature comparison on our site:]
Someone can take the firmware and rewrite the Lepton VoSPI pipeline to get the lower resolution of data and manipulate the data to feed the rest of the existing pipeline. It's just a matter of how many people want that versus just getting the FLIR Lepton FS with a higher resolution picture.
Last question: is it possible to export the data into a video file?
Currently, not yet. That is a feature that I would like to have for the mobile and desktop apps.
To get ahold of Dan for your next project or if you have questions about the tCam-Mini, visit his site here!