The pandemic is presenting an opportunity for the technology industry by the growing interest in remote fever detection gadgets and other forms of remote biometric identification technology. In this article, we look at recent news highlighting the adoption of thermal imaging technology in detecting possible cases of Coronavirus and how thermal cameras are seeing a surge in demand.
What are thermal imaging cameras
Thermal cameras identify the temperature by recognizing and capturing varying levels of infrared light. This light is unnoticeable to the naked eye but can be observed as heat if the energy is high enough. The cameras measure temperature on the skin’s surface and subsequently create a thermal image.
Unlike conventional thermometers, in most cases, thermal imaging cameras eliminate the need for human contact and operate quicker than manual screenings. Temperatures can be measured singularly in larger groups, in real-time and with a high degree of precision. Thermal cameras generally vary widely in complexity and price.
The use of thermal cameras to screen temperatures of workers
The thermal cameras, which can read heat on people and objects, have traditionally been utilized in industrial, security, and military settings. However, since the outbreak of the COVID-19, the call for thermal imaging equipment to screen temperatures is rising considerably. There already is evidence of Countries demonstrating that it is achievable to decrease the spreading of the Coronavirus by implementing strict protective measures while also attempting to continue the economy going. One such action is the use of remote infrared temperature measurements for detecting elevated temperatures. Drones fitted with thermal cameras were adopted in Wuhan, China, the initial epicenter of the crisis, to monitor movement. Now, numerous portable thermal imaging tools are being broadcasted for their potential to guard the spread of the virus.
As businesses brace themselves to return to operations while also trying to halt the spread of COVID-19, the industry leaders and manufacturers such as Flir Systems Inc, Thermoteknix Systems Ltd, and Israel’s Opgal Optronic Industries Ltd and Seek Thermal Inc are all reporting an unseen sales spike and reported a rush to meet the demand.
Thermal cameras are being used to ensure that workers do not enter workplaces with potential illnesses, a crucial part of sustaining production during the pandemic that could become more extensive as economies resume.
Major employers such as Tyson Foods Inc are said to be taking the temperature of their workers at all of their locations prior to the staff entering the business facilities. They are believed to be using temporal thermometers, but at some locations, infrared temperature scanners are implemented.
Reuters reported that Amazon, a leading e-commerce company, has also adopted the use of thermal cameras at its depots to advance screening for staff that could potentially be infected with the Coronavirus. It has been reported that Amazon has prepared the hardware for the tools in at least six locations outside Los Angeles and Seattle, but the corporation has not revealed whose gadgets it is using. It is believed that as the second level of detection, Amazon also carries out a thermometer test of the forehead on anyone recognized by the cameras to obtain an accurate temperature.
How reliable are thermal cameras for Coronavirus detection?
While thermal cameras can be valuable in recognizing high body temperatures, it would not detect Coronavirus per se, solely the symptoms. Furthermore, it is questionable how this kind of technology would be deemed accurate when used for assessments in settings of larger groups of people and the practicalities of identifying those with elevated temperatures.
Thermal imaging only evaluates skin temperature and not an individual’s internal temperature. Furthermore, it must be reflected that COVID-19 has a comparatively long incubation period, and not all patients will encounter a fever. The consideration that not everyone may develop a fever must be given due regard, together with the fact that some patients might have very mild symptoms that would not cause concern or show any anomalies.
It is evident that thermal cameras have the potential of assisting with the early screening stages but there are too many open ended questions that indicate the cameras would not be near sufficient for providing an accurate diagnosis.
The influx of AI tools to battle the virus is no doubt in the name of the greater social good. Still, it raises many important questions, especially around accuracy, safety, and privacy.
It may well be that thermal cameras could instill a false sense of security, possibly encouraging a movement to revert to ‘normality’ before it is due.