An infrared thermometer is a thermometer which infers temperature from a portion of the thermal radiation sometimes called black-body radiation emitted by the object being measured. They are sometimes called laser thermometers as a laser is used to help aim the thermometer, or non-contact infrared thermometers or temperature guns, to describe the device’s ability to measure temperature from a distance. By knowing the amount of infrared energy emitted by the object and its emissivity, the object’s temperature can often be determined within a certain range of its actual temperature. Infrared thermometers are a subset of devices known as “thermal radiation thermometers”.
The design essentially consists of a lens to focus the infrared thermal radiation on to a detector, which converts the radiant power to an electrical signal that can be displayed in units of temperature after being compensated for ambient temperature. This permits temperature measurement from a distance without contact with the object to be measured. A non-contact infrared thermometer is useful for measuring temperature under circumstances where thermocouples or other probe-type sensors cannot be used or do not produce accurate data for a variety of reasons.
Some typical circumstances are where the object to be measured is moving; where the object is surrounded by an electromagnetic field, as in induction heating; where the object is contained in a vacuum or another controlled atmosphere; or in applications where a fast response is required, the accurate surface temperature is desired or the object temperature is above the recommended use point for contact sensors, or contact with a sensor would mar the object or the sensor, or introduce a significant temperature gradient on the object’s surface.
Infrared thermometers can be used to serve a wide variety of temperature monitoring functions. A few examples provided include detecting clouds for remote telescope operation, checking mechanical or electrical equipment for temperature and hot spots, measuring the temperature of patients in a hospital without touching them, checking heater or oven temperature, for calibration and control, checking for hot spots in fire-fighting, monitoring materials in processes involving heating or cooling, and measuring the temperature of volcanoes. At times of epidemics of diseases causing fever, such as SARS coronavirus and Ebola virus disease, infrared thermometers have been used to check arriving travelers for fever without causing harmful transmissions among the tested.
In 2020 when COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, infrared thermometers were used to provide safe and accurate testing. Public health authorities such as the FDA in United States published rules to assure accuracy and consistency among the infrared thermometers.
There are many varieties of infrared temperature-sensing devices, both for portable and handheld use and as fixed installations.