Pandemic of Opportunities — Thermal Imagers Have Become a Full-Fledged Industry in Six Months

Remote temperature sensing technologies can help us move closer to lifting the restrictions and are likely to be part of the new norm. The number of suppliers of such instruments is growing, and big business is investing far-sighted in thermal imagers. Let’s see how in just six months a relatively small market segment has evolved into a real industry.

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Photo: pixinoo / Shutterstock

In October 2016, the Shenzhen-based video surveillance company Sunell conducted an experiment to install thermal cameras and face recognition devices at the entrances of six schools in northern Beijing.

The devices recognized faces and measured the temperature of incoming students. At first, the accuracy was poor, but over the course of the year, the technology was improved. Then the company began to expand its range of services.

Other educational institutions and even prisons appeared among her clients. Specifically, in 2018, the company entered into contracts with all schools in the Anning District of Lanzhou City. To date, she has measured temperatures in 6.86 million students, according to Sunell.

The 2020 pandemic was a time of great opportunity for the company. Since March, thermal imaging systems have been installed in another 20 educational institutions. Sunell currently sells its technology to at least 19 other companies, according to IPVM Surveillance Resource.

While much of the world is adapting to the new norm, remote temperature sensing devices may bring the time limit closer.

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Photo: IPVM

Currently, there are 170 companies on the market offering devices for detecting people potentially infected with the coronavirus. According to the IPVM list, there were only 30 of them before the pandemic.

Some of these companies resell thermal imaging cameras from larger manufacturers, adding their own programs or algorithms for detecting temperature, while others are just installing verification systems. Almost all major market players are from China — Sunell, Dahua, Hikvision, TVT, and YCX. The exception is American FLIR. In addition to direct sales, the six companies also partner with 47 resellers that have recently started selling basic thermal cameras.

The big business started investing in thermal imaging infrastructure, indirectly confirming that this technology will be in demand for a long time to come. In May 2020, FLIR CEO James Cannon told investors that the company had committed $ 100 million in coronavirus-related sales in the first quarter alone and plans to install thermal imagers at General Motors factories. FLIR’s preliminary data released this week is set to exceed analysts’ forecasts for the second fiscal quarter.

However, China’s Hikvision and Dahua will focus on growth outside the US, as both have been placed on federal blacklists for human rights violations.

Cameras are installed not only at stationary checkpoints. Robotics company Cobalt has equipped its mobile office robots with FLIR temperature sensors and is offering its technology as a complete “back to work” solution. It is no longer necessary to involve a person with a thermal scanner: robots perform the test autonomously. They can also tell if employees are wearing masks and remind workers of the importance of personal protective equipment.

Another company, Invixium, is building face recognition terminals upgraded to detect human temperature. On the online platform, company management can monitor the temperature of all staff, as well as display statistics on the date and age of employees.

All thermal imaging cameras usually work in a similar way. The device captures an image of the face and then the software analyzes the temperature of the human skin. Based on this data, she predicts its internal temperature. Typically, skin temperature is closest to the true temperature around the eyes and tear ducts.

In tests carried out by IPVM, under optimal conditions, the cameras determined the temperature to an accuracy of fewer than 0.2 degrees Celsius.

Real-world conditions are not always ideal. So, the terminal for measuring temperature from ZKTeco was accurate when the sensor was 45 cm from a person’s face but was mistaken by almost a degree when the distance was more than 80 cm.

Some manufacturers, such as Hikvision and Sunell, scan their foreheads, claiming that the tests are equally accurate and that glasses wearers do not need to take them off. However, according to IPVM, the hair that hides a person’s forehead interferes with measuring the temperature of the forehead, and these cameras ignore the heat in other parts of the face. Also, a hat, helmet, or applying a cold or warm compress to the head will affect the measurement performance.

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Photo: John Keeble / Getty Images

Dozens of companies using Hikvision and Sunell technologies, as well as end customers, warn about this. The most dangerous thing is that patients with coronavirus do not always have a fever. Studies have shown that 20% to 40% of cases may be asymptomatic, meaning that those who are able to spread the disease will not have a fever.

However, Sunell is not intimidated.

Source: RusBase

Written by

Bioinformatician at Oncobox Inc. (@oncobox). Research Associate at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (@mipt_eng).

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