Infrared AI cameras could help spot coronavirus carriers at polling places

Security company is using thermal imaging and AI to identify people with a temperature of 100 degrees.

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A security company has shifted its detection strategy from spotting guns to identifying people with a temperature. Launched in 2018, Athena Security's first product uses thermal imaging and computer vision to detect guns concealed under clothing. Now that the coronavirus is an even bigger public health threat than gun violence, the company has a new product: Fever Detection for COVID-19.

Lisa Falzone, co-founder and CEO of Athena Security, said the platform combines infrared cameras and an algorithm that analyzes body temperature to detect people who have a temperature higher than 100 degrees.

"So when someone comes into a business or an airport, you want to detect fevers to protect employees and customers," she said.

The cameras scan 12 points on the head, including a point at the inner eye that is the most accurate for temperature readings. The measurements are within a half-degree of accuracy, according to the company.

"We automatically send a discreet alert so customers don't have to have someone stationed at every doorway watching people come in," Falzone said.

Falzone said that knowing that temperature monitoring was in place could give people the confidence to vote in the presidential election in November.

"We could help governments put more public safety measures in place and keep us all healthy," she said.

SEE: Cybersecurity: Let's get tactical (free PDF)

Chris Ciabarra, CTO and co-founder, said Athena adds an artificial intelligence algorithm to an off-the-shelf camera and automates the monitoring and alert process. The fever detection system was first deployed last week at Capital Factory in Austin, TX, a coworking space and entrepreneur center. 

Customers using Athena's gun detection system include schools, places of worship, and Fortune 500 companies as well as the U.S. Air Force. Athena plans to propose the fever detection system to these customers as well as local governments. The company is planning to discuss the idea of using the cameras at polling places and other venues where people could still congregate in large numbers.

In practice in a retail setting, Ciabarra said that store employees could approach customers and state that they have been selected for a random test and screen the individual with a thermometer.

"We're not trying to hide this, we want our customers to tell people their temperature is being monitored," he said.

Companies also can use the fever monitoring system to screen employees as well to prevent people from coming in to work when they are sick.

"Anyone who wants to reopen or stay open during the coronavirus outbreak should implement a system to protect employees and customers," Falzone said.
With the gun detection system and the fever monitor, Athena blurs the faces of people on the camera footage. The fever monitor tracks thermal images which do not display a person's race or ethnicity.

A court case from 2014 addressed whether police officers can use thermal imaging to detect activity—such as marijuana growing operations—inside a home. There is a greater expectation of privacy in private places as compared to public ones.

The platform has a browser-based dashboard and a mobile application. The system can integrate with access control systems and other security systems via an API.

IPVM, a video surveillance research firm, recently questioned the marketing claims made by Athena Security in regard to the coronavirus detection cameras. TechRepublic contacted Athena in regard to these claims. 

The company stated, "The incumbent industry claims are baseless."

Update: This article was revised on March 27, 2020 at 6:15 pm to reflect comments from IPVM and Athena Security's response. Pricing information was removed from the article because customers must now contact Athena via phone call to make a purchase. 

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Athena Security uses thermal imaging, artificial intelligence, and security cameras to detect people with a temperature above 100 degrees.

Image: Athena Security

By Veronica Combs

Veronica Combs is a senior writer at TechRepublic. For more than 10 years, she has covered technology, healthcare, and business strategy. In addition to her writing and editing expertise, she has managed small and large teams at startups and establis...