Cameras That Can Detect Temperature: Miracle Bullet Against Covid-19?


During the past few months, people are in a frenzy to secure necessary resources to fight the Corona Virus Disease-19 or Covid-19, one of the most devastating and shocking pandemics in the past decades. The demand for devices and technology that provides promises to detect symptomatic (or even asymptomatic) individuals has been on the rise. But not all of these proposed solutions work like what the manufacturers are saying it would do.

Thermal or thermographic cameras are already used as a way to detect people with fever-like symptoms in areas where traffic volume is pretty high, like shopping malls, office buildings, airports, or hospital entrances, as well as mass-attendance events when they resume.

People with relatively high temperatures can be directed to more stringent assessments and encouraged to get into isolation to help curb further spread of Corona Virus Disease-19 or Covid-19. However, evidence suggests that thermal cams are far from the perfect solution to this problem. It can offer limited accuracy if not, set up the right way, and it has tons of data privacy concerns.

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The accuracy is pretty important

Despite the importance of the Corona Virus Disease-19 situation, the medical industry, and the government should not abandon its accuracy. If body temp screening falsely detects multiple people of having a fever, then medical professionals will be burdened by unnecessary secondary assessments.

On the other hand, if this technology fails to recognize people with symptoms of the disease, it may create a false sense of confidence and security and lead to future disease clusters. It is pretty crucial in environments that are considered high-risk areas like hospitals or aged-care facilities.

The most accurate devices for measuring body temperatures are the once used to help assess patients for fever like a rectal, ear, and mouth thermometers. But these tools require intensive training to use the right way, as well as bring patients into contact with the device that needs to be cleaned before it can be used to another patient again. Cleaning and training requirements are serious drawbacks during a pandemic and the reason why these tools are not used for mass fever screening.

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Why use thermographic cameras?

As a result, both industry and governments are using automated systems that involve infrared thermographic cams instead of performing fever-screening from facial temp measurements. A lot of these systems have already been used in areas that are high risk, across the United States. These systems are usually seen as a miracle bullet for mass screening.

Measurements are almost immediate, there is no physical contact, and data are viewed at a safe distance, so there is minimal to no disruption in places where there are a lot of people. Not only that, but the risk of cross-contamination is also pretty low, and operators are not in harm’s way.

The limits of thermographic cams

One of the most vital limitations of this technology is biological. Every area of a person’s facial skin has different temperature, and it does not uniformly reflect our body’s core temperature. To assess fever, we need to check our core body temperature.

If you enter a building during winter, people’s forehead temp stays pretty low for a couple of minutes. It could potentially allow people with a fever to be appropriately screened. According to studies, the area of our face that best reflects our body core temp is the inner corner of the eye.

It is a very small target, so to measure this part of the face accurately, people need to face and be very close to the camera directly. Even a minuscule change in angle can alter the result of the test. Even if this system can measure the right area of the face, other factors can change the result, like airflow, room temperature, image background, skin dampness, and wearing eyeglasses.

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In 2007, ISO or the International Organization for Standardization released guidelines or regulations on how to properly deploy a thermographic camera system and consider the factors mentioned above. The recommendations include keeping subjects and thermal imaging devices close, making sure every person pause while they are in front of the device, and measuring one person at a time.

Privacy issues

Aside from the limitations of these devices, a lot of these thermographic cam systems include facial recognition features to make it easier for the users to identify people who are feverish or with fever. Shopping centers, office buildings, hospitals, or even stadiums worldwide are now receiving thermal images of every person entering their facilities.

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Important questions remain over whether these companies are updated with the required security practices to store and collect private information safely. In places like hospitals or aged-care facilities, where the impacts of an outbreak can be pretty dangerous, even deadly, people have an ethical and moral obligation to follow best-practice protocols, as well as medical professionals’ advice.

Today, in the case of thermographic cams for mass fever testing, the responsibility would be to make sure that the system follows the International Organization for Standardization recommendation and avoid service providers who do not comply.

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