While really cool, thermal imaging equipment has some major design flaws. But the technology is about to have a breakthrough that will make it more efficient and cheaper, and it's all thanks to a color-changing butterfly.
To make thermal imaging work, a lot of energy goes into cooling the device, so that when you turn your head, the heat signatures fade quickly rather than remaining in your vision. That takes a lot of energy, it costs extra money and it makes the devices bulky and more complicated. So G.E. turned for inspiration to the scales of the morpho butterfly, reports Geek.com:
These scales have the unique property of being able to both absorb and reflect light at different wavelengths. What’s more interesting is that you can manipulate this process by changing the temperature of the scales, which incidentally is what allows the butterfly to change the hue of their wings.
Like the crab shell that holds the key to better solar cells, these scales are made of chitin, which has a low capacity for heat, so it cools easily.
So the scales change color in reaction to heat, but cool easily as well: the perfect recipe for good thermal vision. G.E. doesn't have the technology ready just yet, but keep an eye out.