The main thermal chips manufacturers are coming out with low resolution chips that are dropping the pricing from thousand of dollars per chip to around $100. This is just the start. As we know with chips, increase the manufacturing volume and quality increases while prices collapse.
Flir, a global military technology tech company, had a failed attempt at a $249 iphone 5 thermal peripheral. Too bad for them the iphone 6 came out and they had a specialized form fitting case. You can see it here.
Recently, Seek Thermal, a new startup just launched it's smartphone attachment with higher resolution and a phone agnostic design for $199. You can see it on Amazon here.
Even though Seek Thermal is the best "bang for the buck" in thermal its chip is just 206 by 156 thermal pixels. That is well short of the 1200 by 900 pixels required for 1 megapixel imaging. It harks back to the VGA resolution days. So with that low resolution you're not going to track raccoons combing your garbage cans from a distance - but you'll definitely see the heat signatures in the cans. If you check out the Amazon reviews you'll see consumers are saying cheap, neat but "so now what?"
This is just the beginning. These guys are the trail blazers and in technology it's the second and third waves of technology guys that really make a new technology interesting.
The "so what" will come when the chips go mainstream directly into smartphones and tablets. Then thermal will be everywhere and easily combined with computing power and global data.
Will it happen? I think definitely. Cell phone manufacturers have tapped out most of the affordable third party components that make smart devices "gee whizzy". Touch screens, Bluetooth, accelerometers... all have been used and combined. Thermal will be new and with the cut throat competition between Apple and Android it will get incorporated. When? That's the wild bet.
In the meantime, the commercial use implications are just staggering. Building construction, maintenance and insurance imaging alone is worth billions. Machine and equipment monitoring and maintenance imaging is worth billions. Common security and surveillance applications is worth millions. Oil exploration, chemical manufacturing, home repair and automotive maintenance are all just some of the industries that can apply this technology en masse. The data analysis and storage is going to be a staggering opportunity.
Thermal imaging is quietly innovating and setting the stage for something quite interesting. Keep watching this space.