How FLIR Hacked Their Way into Hands of Consumers

Editor's Note: ProgrammableWeb is always looking for ways to help API providers be more successful in their endeavors. In recent months, we were asked to publish more articles about what it takes to run a successful hackathon. In response to that request, we've partnered with the world famous AngelHack organization and asked them to report on the hackathons they've been producing and, for each one, their recipe for success. What follows is the first of what we hope to be many more such reports.

What do NASCAR, Bigfoot hunters, the television show “The Bachelor” and Georgia Law Enforcement have in common? They’ve all used thermal imaging technology in distinctly unique and novel ways. And they all happened to use products from FLIR, the leader in the thermal imaging space. So, whether showcasing thermal images of the No. 1 FLIR Chevrolet SS at the Sylvania 300 or answering the pressing question of which bachelorette really had the hots for Bachelor Ben, this one company that most people have never heard kept popping up.

With these early wins under its belt, the next question for FLIR was how to scale consumer interest in its technology. As is often the case with Platform-grade technologies like FLIR’s, software developers would be key.

But first, a little background on our key players:

First, FLIR. The Oregon-based company was founded in 1978 and is the world’s largest commercial company specializing in the design and production of thermal imaging cameras, components and imaging sensors. The company has always been well-known in communities that already utilize thermal imaging. But the mass market? Not so much.

Second, AngelHack. We started AngelHack in 2011, right before the beginning of the hackathon boom. Our community of almost 100,000 talented developers, designers and entrepreneurs has attracted some of the world’s biggest brands; companies like MasterCard and Barclays. And, when it comes to hackathons, we’ve organized and marketed over 250 events around the world. But there’s more to it than just organizing the events and being there to check people in and set up chairs. The complete journey begins with determining goals for the project and creating the perfect plan to reach new markets by transforming entire businesses into platforms. From there we go into the messaging, coordination and marketing.

So what was the problem? Why did FLIR seek out AngelHack?

As the “world’s largest” in its industry, FLIR has had the commercial thermal imaging market covered since 1978. Their offerings generate over $300m in annual revenue with products ranging from high-end military equipment to maritime and commercial security equipment to hand-held products used by construction contractors, hunters and outdoorsmen. But, as smart companies often do, they’ve been working on expanding their offerings. And expanding their markets.

One way they’re doing this is by introducing new, more consumer-affordable products. Basically, they want people to be able to use FLIR products for fun.

Enter, FLIR’s Lepton thermal imaging module and the FLIR ONE.

The FLIR Lepton --- the world’s first miniaturized thermal sensor --- was small enough and inexpensive enough to bring thermal imaging to the mass consumer market for the very first time. With “Lepton-inside,” the FLIR ONE, is an affordably priced iPhone and Samsung Android thermal imaging attachment that FLIR believes to be way too good of a product to keep from average consumers. It received great reception from tech enthusiasts and inspired FLIR to set its sights on capturing the consumer market.

But before they could successfully enter into consumer market, the products had to go through some minor adjustments and FLIR had to figure out how to get them into the hands of people who know how to turn cool technology into really useful consumer products. After all, you can’t hand Robin the keys to the Batmobile without some thorough training, right?.

This is the point at which FLIR and AngelHack combined forces. Before it hooked-up with AngelHack, FLIR started doing hackathons in late 2014 and found some early success. But, it really wanted to accelerate the organization of a diverse and robust developer community for Lepton and the FLIR ONE. So, in late 2015, it reached out to AngelHack to turn up the heat. After all, a hackathon is the perfect setting for companies looking to get their products into the hands of developers who can quickly create apps utilizing that tech.

And apps are exactly what FLIR wants. With only 15 consumer apps in the Android and iOS app stores utilizing FLIR tech at the time, there was a lot of work to be done. While FLIR’s marketing efforts had largely targeted its commercial users, AngelHack and FLIR had to create a more compelling story for the general developer community.

Knowledge is power!

Once it was agreed that a hackathon made sense, the next order of business was to determine which geographic market to target. Here at AngelHack, we’ve organized and marketed hackathons all over the globe. So, by this point, we knew what made each region tick, what were the turn-offs, and more importantly, what were the turn-ons. But, we also had to find a community that had the creative strength to take a new technology and integrate both the hardware and software components into relevant consumer use cases.

Just like buying real estate, location is everything! AngelHack and FLIR chose the robust AngelHack community in Hong Kong to get things started.

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