IR is often subdivided into near-IR (NIR, 0.7-5 µm; in wavelength), mid-IR (MIR (also intermediate-IR (IIR)), 5 - 30 µm) and far-IR (FIR, 30 - 1000 µm). However, these terms are not precise, and are used differently in various studies. Infrared radiation is often linked to heat, since objects at room temperature or above will emit radiation mostly concentrated in the mid-infrared band (see black body).
Infrared is used in night-vision equipment, when there is insufficient visible light to see an object. The radiation is detected and turned into an image on a screen, hotter objects showing up brighter, enabling the police and military to chase targets.
Smoke is more transparent to infrared than to visible light, so fire fighters use infrared imaging equipment when working in smoke-filled areas. Fire fighters also use this equipment in wood-frame buildings after a fire has been extinguished to look for hot spots behind the walls, where a fire can break out again.
In the fields of building maintenance and property management, IR can be a cost saving tool when used to image various building components and equipment. IR thermography is a type of photography that measures temperature differences in the IR range. This is useful when looking for equipment "hot-spots" or scanning the exterior or roof of a building looking for heat loss.
A more common use of IR is in television remote controls. In this case it is used in preference to radio waves because it does not interfere with other devices in adjoining rooms - this is especially important in areas of high population density (IR does not penetrate walls). IR data transmission is also employed in short-range communication among computer peripherals and personal digital assistants. These devices usually conform to standards published by IrDA, the Infrared Data Association. Remote controls and IrDA devices use infrared light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to emit infrared radiation which is focused by a plastic lens into a narrow beam. The beam is modulated, i.e. switched on and off, to encode the data. The receiver uses a siliconphotodiode to convert the infrared radiation to an electric current. It responds only to the rapidly pulsing signal created by the transmitter, and filters out slowly changing infrared radiation from sunlight, people and other warm objects.
The light used in fiber optic communication is typically infrared.
In 1800 the English astronomer William Herschel held a mercury thermometer in the spectrum produced by a glass prism to measure the heat content of different coloured lights. He found that the thermometer registered an increase in temperature even when held beyond the red end of the spectrum, where there was no visible light. This was the first experiment to show that heat could be transmitted by an invisible form of light.