LAX’s new thermal cameras aim to make flying safe and seamless during COVID-19

By Lydia You

As part of a pilot program, thermal heat cameras and detection systems have been installed at LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal

The coronavirus is here to stay, and the road back to “normal” life is looking increasingly, well, not normal.

As businesses and institutions begin the process of re-opening, Invisible Health Technologies is seeking to make that transition as safe and seamless as possible through the Omnisense Systems Sentry MK4 Mass Fever Screening System, a top-of-the-line mass fever detection system that is being tested at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Originally developed by Singaporean company Omnisense Systems in response to the 2003 SARS outbreak, the Sentry MK4 Mass Fever Screening System estimates core body temperature of travelers by sensing heat waves emanating from their bodies. There are around 100 MK4s in Singapore’s vaunted Changi airport, which has long been acclaimed as one of the best airports in the world in terms of safety and amenities. After over 15 years of development, the technology is now on its fourth model.

Invisible Health Technologies recently became an authorized reseller of the MK4, one of three thermal camera brands being tested as part of Los Angeles World Airports’ Terminal Wellness Pilot Project, which launched in June.

CEO Andrew Southern, a New York-based technology consultant, started Invisible Health Technologies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When we started the company I was looking for technologies that would help us create a new layer of health and safety monitoring without causing anyone any inconvenience, so much so that the technology would be almost invisible, and that’s where we got the name Invisible Health Technologies,” says Southern.

Indeed, a key feature of the MK4 is the “frictionless” component of the cameras, which have the capacity to scan every person that fits into the camera’s 25-foot depth frame and is even capable of scanning large crowds and people running by. The MK4 also distinguishes itself from other temperature cameras in that it offers “no-stop” temperature sensing with an accuracy of plus-or-minus 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas other models at lower price points require customers to pause and look into a camera for three to four seconds, and offer less accurate reads of plus-or-minus 1 degree Fahrenheit. These features are crucial tools for detecting COVID-19, in which up to 89% of infected patients exhibit a fever.

Los Angeles World Airports’ Director of Public Relations Heath Montgomery explains that contracted health staff and technical personnel will be responsible for monitoring the footage from the cameras. Passersby exhibiting an elevated temperature (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or above, which is the current guideline set by the Centers for Disease Control) will be pulled aside for a second handheld temperature test with a non-contact thermometer. Those departing with an elevated body temperature will be advised not to travel, while travelers arriving from international flights may be referred to CDC staff on site.

“To protect guest privacy, the cameras will not store, transmit, or share any data or images taken. Guests who decline to participate will have the opportunity to use a different pathway,” notes a press release from Los Angeles World Airports. Prominent signage near the cameras, which are located in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at the main entrance of the departures level and near select international arrivals, alert travelers to the presence of the cameras typically affixed to a laptop cart, notes Montgomery. Southern told Fox News that the MK4 fever-screening system has the capability to record if needed, but is not set to record.

“Our philosophy is that if that technology doesn’t inconvenience people, they will accept that new responsibility of looking out for other people’s health by looking out for their own health,” says Southern. This is an especially important point considering that fatigue — from endless quarantine restrictions and myriad anxieties over health and safety — has proven to be just as dangerous as the virus itself, resulting in spiking cases across the country as states juggle re-opening.

“I think people have a lot of trauma related to COVID…this is something that’s going to be with us for some time if not the virus, the trauma of the shared experience. Moving forward, this technology can be useful into the future to ensure that we’re safe in case there’s a serious second wave, or when we have our next flu/cold season,” Southern explains, citing this focus on providing a seamless and undisruptive experience as a key component of his company’s longevity in the market post-COVID.

“Because they [the MK4s] are so frictionless, you can keep them turned on and just catch folks as they come through if it’s a bad flu season or something,” says Southern. “We’re absolutely at the ready for the next one of these things that happen.”

Thermal cameras, while an extraordinarily useful tool in stopping infection in its tracks, are only one weapon in fighting the pandemic. Nevertheless, they may prove to be crucial in returning high-volume public institutions, from casinos to schools to factories, back to full function.

“Our health in public space affects everyone else’s health in public space,” says Southern.