The Covid-19 pandemic has been the most high-tech health emergency in human history so far. We have rapidly grown accustomed to seeing technology as an indispensable ally in the fight against the virus, both in its capacity as a work facilitator or community connector and as a tool of active disease control. You might not have heard about it, but one of the most advanced technologies used to contain the spread of Covid-19 was designed and implemented by Italian engineers. We are talking about a smart alternative to the omnipresent thermal scanners that check people’s temperature in public places or on the entrance of buildings, shops, parks, and transport hubs.
From Chinese police helmets to your local shop
We first spotted them on the helmets of Chinese police, back when we used to fool ourselves that this was just a Chinese problem. Then we started seeing officials aiming thermal scanners at people’s foreheads as they got on and off trains and planes. A few Italian cities are even testing drones, equipped with thermal scanners, to fly over squares, open markets and crowded avenues.
How do thermal scanners work (or don’t work)
Thermal scanners use infra-red thermometers to determine a human body’s temperature. You might have had one pointed at your head at the supermarket, at the airport, or upon entering your workplace after reopening. Most offices and factories now have rules in place, to prevent employees with above-average body temperature from coming in to work. With the hotter summer weather, however, a few faults are starting to show in this system. Thermal scanners actually detect the temperature of the skin, which is subject to wider variations than the rest of the body (that’s literally why we have skin in the first place, among other things: to protect the rest of our organs and tissues from temperature variations in the atmosphere). This means that, if you stood or walked in direct sunlight for a few minutes, a thermal scanner would read your temperature as much higher than it actually is and might think you are running a dangerous fever when you are, in fact, perfectly healthy. Can we do better than this? We can. And we did.
A3Cube and BioTherm AI
An Italian startup came up with a faster, safer, and more innovative technology, which does not need an operator – thus preventing the formation of queues and unnecessary gatherings – and is more precise than the standard infra-red thermal scanners. The startup is A3Cube and the solution is BioTherm AI, a video surveillance system for monitoring and high precision remote body temperature detection, to be used at access points that need to be guarded, and to screen the temperature of people in transit in any public place. The BioTherm AI camera not only can read body temperature accurately (with an error margin of 0.1 °C), but it can do so to several people at once, even if they are all wearing face masks. Unlike infra-red thermal scanners, the device can also distinguish a human from any other hot bodies in the vicinity, thus avoiding false alarms – a much needed feature in a Country where the tarmac itself can reach temperatures upwards of 50°C in the summer. This is also a privacy-compliant system, as the face detection function does not trace back to the person’s identity, but it can identify a person’s posture or features in order to avoid scanning the same person twice.