Unmanned technologies in the fight against COVID-19: remote temperature check

Previously, we talked about how to combat the spread of coronavirus in China using drone technology in the article “DJI helps fight the coronavirus epidemic”, and also showed examples of using DJI Agras series agricultural drones to disinfect public places with a high potential for infection in the article “Unmanned technology in fight against COVID-19: disinfection”. In this review, we will tell you how drones can help professionals fight the spread of coronavirus by remotely measuring a person’s temperature.

Drone Remote Temperature Measurement: First Experience in China

As you know, one of the key symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus disease, at least its first type, is fever. When the Chinese authorities began to take intensive measures to limit the spread of the disease, among other effective methods, the practice of total temperature checks of people visiting residential complexes and public buildings was used. Special posts were set up in front of the entrance, and employees checked visitors, thus identifying potentially dangerous, possibly infected carriers.

Checking a person's temperature with an infrared thermometer outdoors
Checking a person’s temperature with an infrared thermometer outdoors

This rather simple method turned out to be quite effective (today it is used in other countries), but quite risky. After all, specialists have to approach a potential virus carrier in order to obtain data about a visitor using a portable infrared thermometer. Thus, the measurer himself can turn into an infected person and a spreader of COVID-19. Of course, there are protective suits and masks for specialists, but, as practice has shown, they do not always prevent infection, and sometimes they are simply not enough.

It was this moment that prompted teams of specialists to resort to the help of remote methods for checking temperatures. And for testing, DJI drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras were selected. In particular, DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual drones equipped with a visual and thermal imaging sensor, as well as Matrice 200 V2 series drones with Zenmuse XT series suspended thermal imaging cameras, have been actively used in China. While these drones are typically used for public safety operations or inspections, when properly calibrated, the systems can be used to measure body temperature. There are even special guides on this topic.

DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual with a calibrated camera and a cotton swab on a stick as recommended by DJI engineers
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual with a calibrated camera and a cotton swab on a stick as recommended by DJI engineers

In general, remote temperature checks using drones, even in China itself, have caused controversy. Some critics have pointed to potential inaccuracies in measuring people’s temperatures, influenced by weather conditions and chosen distance. Therefore, DJI engineers tested the procedure using various methods to calibrate the onboard infrared cameras. For example, for an accurate measurement, it was necessary to place a cotton swab in the field of view of a thermal imaging camera and calibrate it correctly. After calibration, a specialist, together with the operator or independently, can use the system for remote temperature measurement.

Kristiansand (Southern Norway) - test site for new temperature testing technique
Kristiansand (Southern Norway) – test site for new temperature testing technique

Norway: developing the Chinese experience

Although disputes over the accuracy of temperature measurement still periodically arise, Chinese developments and DJI’s proposals have been adopted by a number of European countries. The most interesting was the experience of Norway, Russia’s immediate neighbor.

The Norwegians approached the issue of using drones during the epidemic more flexibly compared to a number of other countries. The reason to apply the remote temperature measurement technologies developed in China using drones was the “Better Flight” conference on unmanned technologies in Kristiansand (Southern Norway), held on March 9, 2020. Kristiansand is a popular tourist destination among the Norwegians themselves and is often used for various official and not so official events. Another similar event was used by the Norwegian authorities and unmanned technology enthusiasts to test the remote temperature measurement of conference attendees.

Screenshot of DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual remote temperature measurement software
Screenshot of DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual remote temperature measurement software

For testing, a DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual drone was used, which has already been used in a similar way in China, and for which a special manual for calibrating a thermal imaging camera and an algorithm for using in such situations have been developed. Norwegian specialists, among other things, demonstrated a number of examples of the successful use of drones, when it is more efficient and cost-effective compared to other methods.

It is clear that the topic of the COVID-19 coronavirus and methods of combating its spread was among the most relevant. That is why Elefun, the Norwegian representative of DJI, decided to demonstrate in practice the successful experience of Chinese colleagues. Gunnar Inge Gusdal – Elefun spokesman – told how the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual was used and what results were achieved:

“WE SHOWED TEMPERATURE MEASUREMENT TECHNIQUES, FOR EXAMPLE, IN THE PERSON’S FACE TO DETERMINE WHETHER THEY HAVE HIGH TEMPERATURE. THIS IS CONVENIENT TO DO AT A DISTANCE OR IN HARD TO ACCESS PLACES. TEMPERATURE MEASUREMENT ACCURACY IS PLUS/MINUS HALF A DEGREE AT A DISTANCE FROM TWO TO THREE METERS. YOU CAN MAKE TEMPERATURE MEASUREMENTS BY SITTING OUTSIDE A GLASS WINDOW, FOR EXAMPLE. IN THIS CASE YOU WILL BE PROTECTED FROM ANY INFECTION”

Gunnar Inge Gusdal - representative of Elefun
Gunnar Inge Gusdal – Representative of Elefun

Elefun also demonstrated the use of drones on the banks of the river in Kristiansand, meaning not only indoors but also outdoors.

Saudi Arabia: using Matrice 200 with thermal imaging cameras

Previously, we gave examples of the use of compact industrial drones DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual, armed with a dual matrix, to determine the temperature. This option has been and is used most often in China itself and, as we have seen, has received support in some European countries.

However, we already have an example of solving the same problem using powerful industrial drones of the DJI Matrice 200 V2 line, which have the ability to install visual and thermal cameras in various configurations. The Saudi authorities also faced the problem of the rapid spread of the coronavirus and were even forced to cancel the traditional Muslim hajj to Mecca and Medina this year. And since such a measure only reduced the threat, but did not completely remove it, the authorities of the kingdom decided to use the Chinese experience to check the temperature of people in public places, for example, in large livestock markets, such as in Buraida (Kassim district). Similar measures were also taken by the municipal authorities of Medina.

According to the authorities, thanks to the use of new technology, it is possible to check the temperature of 24 people in 1 second. If the sensors indicate that a particular person is overheated, they are prohibited from entering the market or a public building. After that, a potential virus carrier is sent to doctors for testing for the presence of COVID-19 and, if necessary, for intensive treatment.

****

The above examples of applications of remote temperature measurement using flying thermal imaging cameras on drones are far from being exhausted by China, Norway and Saudi Arabia. The experience gained is being used by other countries as well. Some are just testing DJI systems so far, while others are already actively using them along with ground checks.

It should also be noted here that the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual itself was naturally not created for standard medical procedures, therefore, in order to measure the temperature of a human body, it is necessary to perform preparations, including calibrating the thermal imaging camera and installing small parts like a cotton swab on a stick that needs to be placed just above the camera. DJI engineers have already proposed and are distributing a dedicated manual detailing the calibration methods and procedures for those who wish to conduct remote checks with the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual. We hope that the successful international experience in using these recommendations and the effectiveness of inspections will make it possible to successfully fight the spread of COVID-19 in our country in the future.

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