Caterpillar, one of the world's most successful brands, has delivered a world-first built in to its latest rugged, waterproof, drop-proof 4G mobile phone – a FLIR thermal imaging camera.

The Cat S60 features a Corning Gorilla Glass 4 touchscreen, and is designed to withstand drops onto concrete from up to 1.8m. It is also claimed to be the world’s most waterproof smartphone, able to handle depths of up to five metres for one hour, turning it into a reliable underwater camera.

Cat S60 thermal imaging phone

Cat S60 mobile phone: rugged features plus thermal imaging built in.

But the key development, of course, is the Lepton thermal imaging sensor from FLIR that is built in to the unit. It will record still images, panoramas, and video, offering the user changeable heat palettes; temperature spot meter; and min, max, and average temperature data.

The resolution of the thermal images is quite low – high-res thermal cameras cost thousands of pounds – but in combination with visible-light camera images (and some clever software), the blobs of heat are easy to identify in context. However, it is worth bearing in mind that you can buy hardware add-on devices for standard mobile phones that are likely to sprint ahead of the built-in S60 device in the next few months. Testing by Pocket Mariner (see on-water test here) using an iPhone with a FLIR One attached proved that you could spot an MOB in the water at 30 metres and make out a heat signature from a ship's smoke stack at over a mile. They have been unable to get hold of an S60 to test with, but the suspicion is that Caterpillar are prioritising close-up work at the expense of range.

Cat Phone S60: thermal imaging resolution

The question to ask yourself is whether the all-in-one unit with all its advantages will be made obsolete by the advances in technology made available by the add-on hardware unit – the FLIR One – which can fit to any iPhone or Android device.

The Cat S60 touch screen is super bright (540 nits, which is top of the range along the lines of iPhone 5 and iPhone 6) and can be operated in gloves or with wet fingers. The 3,800 mAh rechargeable battery is double the size of the iPhone latest generation, but thermal imaging is going to need a lot of juice to operate for sure. The Cat S60 runs Android operating system and has a large, fast processor. It features high-quality audio (>105dB), a 13MP main camera with dual flash, and a 5MP front-facing camera.

Key uses for boat owners will be detecting cooling system failures in engine blocks and spotting cold water leaking into a warm cabin. Additionally, FLIR is working overtime to create apps that take advantage of the S60, hosting three "hackathons" in three cities over the last few months (Hong Kong, San Francisco and London). The idea of a hackathon is to attract programmers and "makers" to join forces in developing new ideas with the promise of prize money, and/or development support for the teams that come up with the best new ideas.

The Cat S60 retails at around £550 and is on sale now.

For more cool new technology stories, see: Digital Yacht launches iKommunicate gateway box and 20 hottest new items of sailing kit for 2016.