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Can Infrared Technologies Protect Us From COVID-19?

(The following is an excerpt of an article published by i-Micronews.)

We are today entering a new era when sanitary checks will be regularly required to travel, do shopping, or have a social and cultural life. In this article and the related new Yole Développement (Yole) report, Thermal Imagers and Detectors 2020 – COVID-19 Outbreak Impact – Preliminary Report, we analyze how the COVID-19 outbreak could affect the thermal technology market and industrial landscape.

To resume normal air traffic, air passenger screening to detect travelers with signs or symptoms of infectious disease will require new modalities. Thermal imagers could be used as a fast primary testing solution. This won’t be the first time actually. In the previous SARS, H1N1 and Ebola epidemics thermal cameras were used in some airports to screen travelers for fever. Of course, the size of the previous epidemics was not big enough to give this technology much attention. The way forward would be a triage process. Thermal imagers based on microbolometer technology can be installed at airports. If a fever is detected, then the traveler could be taken aside to get further tested with a more accurate handheld contactless thermometer. If the fever is proven, then they can be isolated for further examination, either a history check, and/or a diagnostics test, provided that it gives results in a reasonable amount of time.

Airports are not the only places where thermal imagers can be the new norm. In April 2020, more than 50 Amazon warehouses had cases of COVID-19. Typically, workers were having their temperatures checked by handheld thermometers at the entrance. Amazon installed thermal cameras at some of their sites, which allows for faster screening. If needed, a secondary, forehead temperature check is performed if the employee is flagged from the camera, according to Reuters. Other companies that have explored using the thermal camera technology include Tyson Foods Inc and Intel Corp. Even some schools in China have started using them. This is an example of how businesses and infrastructure are turning to methods for containing the spread of virus by using technologies that previously went unnoticed by the general public.

More businesses can adopt thermal cameras. In all countries, between 5% and 10% of enterprises employ more than 50 people, according to the OECD. To return to work, they could use thermal cameras to monitor body temperatures of employees as well. Here we are talking about cameras in the order of hundreds of thousands units.

But this might not be enough. Everyone will probably want to have the ability to check their body temperature at any time. We have here a big market opportunity for integration of thermal imaging into smartphones or wearables. This integration has been in process for years. And it has long been perceived as the next sensor to be integrated in a mobile phone after pressure, inertial MEMS, or CMOS imagers. However, when 3D sensing technology was launched by Apple in 2017, all smartphone manufacturers focused their effort on this application, and were not interested in thermal imaging. Nowadays, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are much more sensitive to checking their own temperature and those of people around them, usually several times per day. Integration of a contactless thermometer could make sense. So there could be a revival of the use case of thermal imaging capability or temperature measurement in a smartphone or a wearable in the future.

Click here to read the full article in i-Micronews.

Eric Mounier Ph.D. is Fellow Analyst at Yole Développement (Yole). Dimitrios Damianos, Ph.D. is a Technology and Market Analyst at Yole Développement (Yole) working within the Photonics, Sensing & Display division.

Yole Développement is a member of SEMI and the MEMS & Sensors Industry Group (MSIG), a SEMI Strategic Association Partner. 

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Topics: sensors , Yole Developpement , Imaging , MSIG , MEMS & Sensors Industry Group , Coronavirus , pandemic , COVID-19 , infrared , IR , thermography , thermal scanner , IR detection , thermal imaging , fever , fever detection

 

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