Tracking Temperatures: Fever-detection cameras come into focus

As workers return to their jobs, travel resumes and schools and event venues begin to reopen, technology promises several tools to help ensure those who enter a facility or campus are healthy and maintain social distances. To track temperatures and detect fevers, technology companies are developing new systems and marketing existing ones to identify at-risk individuals before they enter a space.

According to market research firm Fortune Business Insights, Pune, India, the global thermal camera market for fever detection is (not surprisingly) gaining traction in retail locations, hospitals, government buildings and transport authorities worldwide to scan the public’s temperatures.

Many more fever-detection thermal cameras solutions are available now than there were a year ago. In addition, facility owners and managers are taking an integrated, hybrid approach with internet of things sensor data, including going beyond temperatures with software to manage the health data and give it context.

The fever-detection camera market size is $1.28 billion now and is projected to reach $2.19 billion by 2027, said Shriraj Desai, global business development, Fortune Business Insights. Airports were early adopters, deploying the technology as passengers and flight crews travel through the facilities to and from other locations.

Omnisense Systems, a cloud-based remote monitoring solutions provider in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., offers fever-detection systems using mass thermal scanning to screen large groups for individuals running high temperatures.

New York startup Invisible Health Technologies (IHT) specializes in mass thermal-scanning systems. This year, it developed a system using Omnisense Systems’ fever-screening thermal-imaging system, said Andrew Southern, IHT CEO and co-founder. The technology deployment dates back to the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak.

Traditionally, thermal cameras have been used in industrial environments to track the temperature of an engine or other device for safety or maintenance purposes. In 2020, some technology has been repurposed to detect skin temperature as an automated alternative to handheld thermometers, Southern said.

However, many such industrial cameras are not very precise, with a 2–3°F accuracy. Today’s fever-detection systems take a measurement of skin to calculate the estimated core body temperature, and then send alerts for temperatures above a certain level.

Two degrees makes a big difference for human health, so IHT opted to deploy the Omnisense technology that is intended to be highly accurate between 98°F and 105°F.

How readings are collected varies, as well. Some systems require individuals to stop in front of a camera to ensure it captures temperatures. Other versions are aimed at the large moving population. Southern said he developed the IHT system so that individuals simply walk past the camera. As a technology consultant for security and access control for many years, he said, his longtime customers had been asking for seamless temperature-taking solutions.

The cameras point down a corridor toward those entering a space, and the camera system software calculates for potential fevers as it detects people and reads their skin temperatures.

“Very quickly, as you’re walking by, it does these calculations and then sends alerts, typically if temperature is above 100.4°,” he said.

Cameras also sample ambient temperature and humidity readings and use that information to better identify people’s core temperature.

The technology is intended as the first level of screening for elevated temperature in an airport, at a gate or building entrance. Staff view the results on a monitor and can pull targets aside for a second temperature measurement. Systems typically display two images side-by-side, such as the video footage of people walking on one side and the thermal camera results on the other.

The technology could be deployed “where lots of people arrive at once and it doesn’t make sense to screen them one by one,” Southern said, giving the example of colleges, factories and casinos.

After the pandemic passes, Southern predicted the technology will remain in place.

The use of technology to better understand public health may be a permanent solution. “Once people realize it’s like another surveillance camera [and] it doesn’t slow you down or doesn’t record anything,” the public may come to expect it, he said.

In the future, he predicted, the technology could also be deployed at construction site entrances where credentials are provided and badging takes place. However, the cameras have some limitations in outdoor environments, such as extreme heat.

“If you’re outside and it’s really hot, you erect a tent that gets both cameras and people out of sun,” he said.

Additionally, if someone comes in from the heat and enters an air conditioned environment, they would need a 60- to 90-second cool-down period to shed excess heat.

Flir, Wilsonville, Ore., has been providing thermal solutions for elevated skin temperature through multiple pandemics in Asia, from SARS to H1N1. The thermal imaging systems company has installations in airports and other highly trafficked areas to track temperatures within 3°C (5.4°F).

With the COVID-19 pandemic, sales are rising for Flir’s temperature detection systems in North America, the company reports.

Vicon, Hauppauge, N.Y., makes a similar body temperature measurement camera for use in corridors, where individuals are more likely to move through a space one at a time. When people move in single file or groups, the company says it has an accuracy of 0.54°F. And like Omnisense, it offers a dual-spectrum camera for displaying the actual footage and an image overlaid by the temperatures.

Other systems integrate thermal data with facility-wide intelligence. Essence SmartCare, Hoboken, N.J., offers a system that detects temperatures and then prompts automated responses, such as not unlocking doors for that individual. Its senior independent living platform, known as Care@Home, is sold around the world for senior monitoring services in elder care environments.

According to Barak Katz, Essence SmartCare’s general manager, the system detects temperatures, activities and locations of residents and their visitors for fall detection and voice assistance, using artificial intelligence to predict possible emergencies before they occur.

Because the elder-care environment is highly sensitive to infection transmission, facilities want to do more than just prevent infected people from entering; they want to know that individual’s history and any interactions with residents or staff. Therefore, all individuals carry ID devices. If an individual is detected as having a fever, healthcare staff can be notified of the individual’s badge ID and who they were in contact with so that they can be properly screened, Katz explained. The system requires low-voltage installation of receivers to capture the badge transmission and the wired camera data.

The activity monitoring system uses motion sensors and door or window sensors, Katz said, which “gather data such as movement from one area or room to another, time of stay in a certain area and even doors opening and closing.”

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