UC engineers aid development of thermal imaging cameras to spot COVID-19 symptoms

01 May 2020

University of Canterbury Mechanical Engineering experts are among the Kiwi innovators battling against COVID-19.

  • temp imaging

    “If thermal imaging cameras are deployed for temperature screening, this stable temperature reference can help with accuracy. We hope this stable in-frame temperature reference could be useful as a simple, rapidly deliverable approach,” UC Engineering Lecturer Tim Giffney says.

University of Canterbury Mechanical Engineering experts are among the Kiwi innovators battling against COVID-19.

While commercial devices for crowd fever detection exist, the global pandemic has made them hard to come by. The Cacophony Project and 2040 developed low-cost smart thermal camera systems for tracking the predators that threaten New Zealand’s native birds, and have been pivoting the technology to meet this urgent need.

Working with the University of Canterbury, Callaghan Innovation, and the Auckland Bioengineering Institute with testing, calibration and writing for the instruction manual, they have repurposed their technology for crowd fever scanning at a safe distance. The system can measure forehead temperature to +/-0.5°C without a human operator.

UC mechanical engineers Julian Phillips, Lecturer Tim Giffney and Professor Mark Jermy have developed a temperature reference to give a constant check calibration of these devices. The devices are under trial and hoped to be implemented shortly to curb the spread of the virus.

“If thermal imaging cameras are deployed for temperature screening, this stable temperature reference can help with accuracy. We hope this stable in-frame temperature reference could be useful as a simple, rapidly deliverable approach,” UC Engineering Lecturer Tim Giffney says.

“By putting a stable temperature source in view of the camera, the system can continuously check its reading, and make adjustments,” UC Engineering technician Julian Phillips adds.

“The main challenge in developing the reference was coming up with a design that could be rapidly built with minimal resources, and from local supplies as international freight is at an almost complete standstill.”

“Fortunately I have quite a well-equipped workshop at home, needing only a few items to be obtained from UC,” Phillips says. “In January I travelled to Tonga to support a team of our UC biomedical engineering students working on donated medical equipment. The experience of working under constrained resources was good preparation for working under lockdown – a similar level of flexibility and tenacity is required to get the job done.”

About 30 soldiers from Burnham, as well as New Zealand Police officers, were used to test and calibrate the cameras. To help control the spread of COVID-19 it is envisaged the cameras will be used at airports, hospitals, supermarkets and other workplaces.

You can read more about the project here:

Coronavirus: Thermal imaging cameras to spot symptoms could be part of new normal

Kiwi inventors set their focus on Covid-19

Background detail from UC Engineer Tim Giffney:

“Objects at close to human body temperature only emit a very small amount of radiated heat, which is difficult to detect in the camera sensor. This means it is not easy to make an accurate thermal camera that is insensitive to external conditions. 

“Comparing the temperature of a surface to our reference at known temperature is less difficult. This could allow a wider variety of thermal imaging cameras to be used, which would be useful in case of shortage.

“The internal correction routines of some cameras can also cause inconsistent readings, which our method could help continuously calibrate out.”

  • Prototype

    One of the prototype references. The black disk is the stable temperature source. Photo: Julian Phillips/UC

For further information please contact:

UC Communications team, media@canterbury.ac.nz, Ph: (03) 369 3631 or 027 503 0168

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