Law enforcement didn’t pull any punches during its manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, going so far as to lock down an entire metropolis while they searched. Even when officers thought they had the second suspect cornered in Watertown boat, they confirmed their suspicions with a camera that can spot people from up to 10 miles away. Just to be sure.
Developed by the FLIR corporation, it’s known as the Star SAFIRE III. This multi-imaging system consists of a 15-inch gimbal packed with a 640 x 480 Forward Looking Infrared camera operating at the 3-5μm wavelength, as well as an optional colour zoom camera, spotter scope, low-light camera, 25km laser rangefinder, pointer and illuminator. Altogether the unit weighs about 100 pounds, which makes it small enough to fit on helicopters and planes the size of Cesnas, it’s also been utilised as optional equipment for the Predator Drone, according to Andy Teich, President of FLIR.
“One of the unique capabilites of the camera is that… [it’s] imaging in the midwave region, which is the three to five micron range of the spectrum,” Teich told Gizmodo. “There are many plastics that become transparent in those wavelengths. And in this case, the boat had one of these shrinkwrap coverings — opaque plastic shrink wrap covering — and the SAFIRE saw right through that covering.”
The result? The now famous monochrome images of the second Boston Marathon Bombing suspect moments before his capture. “This proved particularly useful in this case,” Teich continued, “because they were able to see the suspect lying in the boat, determine if he was moving or not, evaluate whether he was holding anything or was wearing a bomb vest” and were instead able to evaluate the situation without putting officers in undue danger.
The SAFIRE III is one of the most widely used FLIR systems available with more than 500 in service worldwide. While technically available for purchase by the public, you’re going to need to throw down a cool half million dollars for one of your own.