In light of the global coronavirus pandemic, many established processes face being upended to reduce the number of infections and save lives. One of those processes could be the replacement of the traditional thermometer.

To take someone’s temperature, you need to get close to them and use a device to make physical contact. It’s slow, clunky, and these days, it’s dangerous, too.

Infrared cameras could change all that. Are we that much closer to using infrared cameras to detect fevers? Some say yes.

The Science Behind Infrared Cameras

Infrared cameras are now established bits of technology. The concept of infrared light was discovered by William Herschel in 1800. Then, the original thermographic camera came alive in 1929 when a Hungarian physicist invented the earliest form of night vision to support anti-aircraft defense.

The principles behind the cameras are complicated and rooted in the world of physics. How can a camera see heat? Because it sees light – and everything emits light, regardless of whether you can see it with the naked eye.

In theory, this can apply to humans, too, but not quite in the way you might expect.

Read More: Tips for working from home during COVID-19 quarantine

Can Infrared Cameras Successfully Spot Fevers?

The infrared camera looks at the outer surface of an object, which makes it great at spotting animals in the brush or planes overhead. But how does it apply to fever detection cameras? After all, your core body temperature comes within your body. Your outside skin is usually cooler, even when you have a fever.

To take your temperature, the user aims the camera at your face. Though removing your glasses is essential. If someone has a high fever, it can reflect in the thermal image and thus suggest potential symptoms of the flu or another ailment.

China and South Korea are using thermal image scanning to help control the virus and send sick people home. Some U.S. businesses have seen use for them, too.

Are Infrared Cameras the Answer to the Pandemic?

Infrared cameras are a helpful tool that are already in use. In the face of a pandemic featuring a highly contagious respiratory disease, we can and must use all the tools at our disposal. However, infrared cameras aren’t the solution to the pandemic.

First, because they measure external temperature, they won’t pick up on slight fevers, which means a feverish, contagious person could still fly under the radar. Additionally, there’s debate about when and how people experience symptoms. These cameras alone won’t identify all people carrying and potentially spreading the virus.

However, in conjunction with widespread testing and contract tracing as well as limiting social contact, these cameras can help slow the spread of the virus by ensuring people who are obviously sick can’t enter crowded areas, like grocery stores or workplaces.

Tech Can Pave the Way to a Healthier World

Infrared cameras are an old technology that could offer new meaning in today’s world. Although they aren’t perfect nor are they a replacement for testing or social distancing, they can help pick out obvious cases to prevent the transmission of contagious diseases.

Looking for more COVID-19 news? Check out our coronavirus archives for more articles on the role of tech in the battle against the coronavirus.


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