Thermal imaging cameras have traditionally been used in industrial, security and military settings and work by reading the heat signature of an object or person relative to their surroundings. As one of the main symptoms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is a high temperature, detecting this early on is another key barrier in preventing viral spread. Some research even suggests that a high temperature is the most common symptom of the current Coronavirus and some people can be unaware that they have one. By utilizing thermal cameras, organisations can instantly detect whether a person is harbouring a high temperature and measures can be put into place to isolate that person and prevent further spread. Sales of thermal imaging cameras have seen a rise and some larger companies are seriously considering investing in this technology ready for the brave new world.
Many governments will be considering when and how they can ‘re-open’ their economies and whilst a vaccination is still being developed, structures will need to be put in place to safeguard the public and limit the spread of the virus. It is likely that strict regulations will be in place for some time and alter the way we go about our daily lives and run businesses. In preparation for this, some businesses are already looking to install thermal imaging cameras in order to detect the high temperature symptom of the novel coronavirus in their employees. The detection of high temperature cannot officially diagnose or tell if a person is infected with coronavirus but can be used as an effective screening process in the first instance.
Currently, some businesses that are still operational, are already manually screening employees by taking temperatures before they enter the premises and begin work. For protocols such as these, thermal imaging would add another layer of protection as it could be conducted at a ‘social distance’. Of course, the technology will not be able to detect other symptoms nor those who have the virus and are asymptomatic, so it is not a thorough measure.
The use of thermal imaging cameras has aided the work of many industries. Military and security operations can easily detect the presence of a person in the dark. Archaeologists can scan excavation sites, firefighters can better survey a fire, doctors can detect issues in the human body and astronomers can better explore space. Many airports use the cameras in security screenings for this exact purpose since the SARs epidemic of 2003. Now, it could be used to help businesses run during this current pandemic.
The technology works by detecting and capturing infrared light – a type of electromagnetic radiation or energy invisible to the human eye but noticeable as heat. All matter will emit some level of infrared light and the highest is fire. The cameras can convert this energy into an electronic signal, produce a thermal image and perform temperature calculations.
Perhaps the largest industry to adopt the technology to screen for coronavirus so far is the global giant Amazon, who has already begun to deploy the infrared technology in its warehouses in both the US and the UK. Previously, the company had been screening employees via daily temperature checks.
Speaking to BBC news, an Amazon spokesperson commented: “We implemented daily temperature checks in our operations locations as an additional preventative measure to support the health and safety of our employees, who continue to provide a critical service in our communities, we are now implementing the use of thermal cameras for temperature screening to create a more streamlined experience at some of our sites.”
Amazon has been under fire in the past few weeks for its approach to the COVID-19 crisis. Cases of the infection has been reported in the U.S warehouses, workers have been protesting for better protection and revealed that social distancing is difficult in their centers but the corporation has threatened to fire those who do not comply.
According to various sources the technology has seen a boom in sales, with infrared companies marketing their products specifically to deploy against the spread of the virus. Interest is ranging from hospitals to airports to businesses and beyond.
The use and roll-out of such technology could be a turning point for how businesses operate during the pandemic and thermal cameras could be a key element in the safe running of these companies. Other large establishments are rumored to be considering the technologies to screen workers and some technology developers are considering a smartphone imaging camera for individuals to detect those with a higher temperature at a distance.