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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

April 9, 2012 at 10:49 AM

New gadget gauges hotness

Unbelievable as it sounds, I finally found a mobile device with more applications than the iPhone.

Not only that, it has user-replaceable batteries and a water-resistant case that can withstand a 10-foot drop.

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All for about $100 when it goes on sale next month.

I’m talking about the 62 Max, a new infrared thermometer unveiled last week by Fluke Corp. The Everett-based company is overshadowed by the region’s software giants and the current obsession with consumer products, but Fluke has been developing renowned high-tech gadgets used by millions of people around the world for decades.

Fluke loaned me a beta version of the 62 Max+ with dual, rotating lasers. It’s one of two new models going on sale in May — the 62 Max has a single laser and will cost $100, and the Max+ will be $130.

Also unveiled last week were pistollike infrared cameras (left) that range from $2,495 to $5,495, and an $1,800 wandlike vibration meter that detects problems inside motors and other rotating equipment.

The Max is the most accessible of these gadgets.

It’s a commercial tool intended for maintenance technicians, building engineers, electricians and others who need dependable gear. But infrared thermometers are increasingly showing up in the home, giving data-obsessed people new ways to check and analyze anything they choose.

Fluke managers say temperature is the second-most measured thing in the world, behind time, and thermometers are among the company’s best-selling devices.

If you just want to see how hot the barbecue is getting, there are cheaper infrared thermometers available.

But if you’re barbecuing in the rain, your hands are covered in sauce and you’re inclined to drop things, Fluke’s gear may be worth the extra price.

In my unscientific testing, a grilled steak tasted better after being tenderized by dual lasers over coals that reached 1,112.5 degrees. It was also reassuring to know that if I dropped the precision measurement device while juggling tongs, a beverage and a serving plate, it would survive.

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Further testing found the potatoes were truly hot and the asparagus water was boiling.

The applications are endless. Everywhere you turn, there’s something different for Max to measure.

A quick test found the exterior of single-pane windows in my house was 13 degrees warmer than the insulated, double-panes upstairs. Milk in the fridge was 38 degrees, cheese in the crisper was 36 degrees, and on and on it went.

Did you know the crema on an espresso is 5 degrees cooler than the surface temp of the coffee underneath?

Seriously, though, these are tools for people doing real work.

Fluke infrared-thermometer customers range from NASCAR mechanics to data-center managers to farmers checking egg temperatures.

Fluke began building electronic test tools in 1948. It was sold to Washington, D.C.-based Danaher in 1998.

To differentiate its products, Fluke emphasizes durability and performance.

Usually new gadgets arrive for review inside protective cardboard and cushioning material.

At Fluke’s campus — next to Boeing’s Everett facility — business-unit manager Ted Lund simply handed over a pre-release 62 Max+, then took me into a room with testing stations.

First I tossed it into a box of fine powder — cornmeal — that encrusted the seams and stuck to the lens. Then I held it under a shower of water and sloshed it around to rinse off the dust.

After toweling it dry, I fired at a temperature-calibration device that showed the device was still within 1 percent accuracy.

The 62 Max+ weighs 9 ounces — about double the iPhone 4S — and has a 1 ¾-inch diagonal display. Its single AA battery lasts for eight hours of continuous use with the laser and backlight on.

This smart little device doesn’t make phone calls, receive email or play “Angry Birds.” But no contract or monthly fees are required, and my kids can’t get enough of it.

It’s time for the tape measure to make room in the toolbox. And for another barbecue.

Here’s an image of the new thermal imager, pointed at a motor and a person at Fluke’s offices in Everett:

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