TORONTO – Its Canadian medical device establishment licence now firmly in hand, Toronto-based Internet of Things Inc. (ITT) is set to launch a fever-detection system for identifying possible COVID-19 carriers at the entrances of airports, long term care facilities, schools and other places where people congregate. The Thermalpass is an AI-enabled, deep learning screening system that got its start as a road-related weather sensing system, today detecting elevated body temperature – and possible COVID-19 – through touchless, infrared thermal sensors.

“It really wasn’t a crazy pivot to go from road temperature combined with atmospheric data to Thermalpass because it performs a very similar task but with medical grade sensors,” ITT president and CEO Michael Lende told BioWorld. “Deep machine learning will also enable our clients to collect data on how many people pass through the system and how many had a fever that could be a sign of COVID-19.”

The heat is on

Looking a lot like the upside-down U-shaped hurdles in track and field the Thermalpass stands seven feet high and more than a yard wide to permit people to pass through entranceways for COVID-19 screening. Assembled and disassembled in 15 minutes, the device will largely go unnoticed at entranceways, said Lende, but not so signals from a daisy chain of 20 medical grade, thermal sensors embedded within its frame.

“Each of those 20 sensors takes 20 temperature readings per second, detecting body temperature with an accuracy of +/- 0.2°C.,” said Lende – in contrast to thermal imaging cameras that detect temperature within a lower tolerance range of ±2 to 5°C. When a normal body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is exceeded, the Thermalpass alerts staff via visual or audio signals to perform additional screening of the individual as a potential carrier of COVID-19.

“There’s no need to breach social distancing practices because no one has to hold anything up to your head to take your temperature,” said Lende. “You can also walk through at normal speed and because it’s not camera-based there’s no encroachment or violation of private space. This is not recognition AI.”

Thermal cameras can’t say the same, Lender noted. In addition to elevated body temperature they capture a facial image of the person being screened. They’re also a perceived security threat. On July 16, U.S. government contractors were ordered to remove surveillance and camera equipment from Chinese blacklisted companies or be banned from future participation in government contracts.

Developing Thermalpass did not happen in a vacuum, Lende was quick to note. In fact, it began as a suggestion from Toronto-based Commersive Retail Solutions Inc., which subsequently joined ITT’s effort to develop the fever-detection system. Meanwhile, Chico, Calif.-based Makel Engineering Inc. is providing rigorous testing and validation of the system, said Lende. “We’re not a large OEM. We can’t afford recalls.”

An end-to-end solution

Assuming Lende is as good as his word and launches the fever-detection system in September, other plans are afoot to improve the technology. On Aug. 20, ITT announced it had joined forces with Guelph, Ontario-based Get Ready Inc. and Richmond Hill, Ontario-based Protect Your Office Inc. to improve one critical aspect of the system.

Until now ITT had decided to leave it up to its clients to respond to Thermalpass alerts, Lende said, deploying their own staff to conduct additional screening for possible COVID-19 infection. After years advising hospitals and businesses on workplace infection protection and control Get Ready CEO Scott Ashley will do the same for ITT clients.

“He’s the guy who knows how to go into a business such as a factory, for example, do an assessment and tell them where they need to have hand sanitizers and step by step what more their employees need to do,” said Lende.

Get Ready also supplies medical and emergency experts to ensure clients meet the “new norm” in safety precautions in the workplace, including COVID-19. Protect Your Office Inc., meanwhile, can provide PPEs and workplace screens and dividers, among other safety technologies.

A publicly traded company, ITT would not reveal how much has been spent to develop Thermalpass to date or reveal its financial sources. The system costs US$6,900 and according to Lende could have major legs in the marketplace.

“Like 9/11, the health and security systems that have been put in place as a result of COVID-19 will still be around twenty years from now. We think our system will be there, too.”