Joseph Cox
March 17, 2020

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

An Austin, Texas based technology company is launching “artificially intelligent thermal cameras” that it claims will be able to detect fevers in people, and in turn send an alert that they may be carrying the coronavirus.

Athena Security is pitching the product to be used in grocery stores, hospitals, and voting locations. It claims to be deploying the product at several customer locations over the coming weeks, including government agencies, airports, and large Fortune 500 companies.

“Our Fever Detection COVID19 Screening System is now a part of our platform along with our gun detection system which connects directly to your current security camera system to deliver fast, accurate threat detection,” Athena’s website reads.

Athena previously sold software that it claims can detect guns and knives in video feeds and then send alerts to an app or security system.

Athena’s new system claims to do much the same but for people exhibiting a fever, with the system designed to send an alert if it detects someone with a higher than normal body temperature, a company representative told Motherboard in an email.

“The AI detects it, and it says I have a 99.5 degrees temperature. It notices that I have a fever, and that I am infected,” an Athena employee says during a video demonstration of the product.

Christopher Ciabarra, a co-founder of Athena, told Motherboard in a phone call, “We actually detect the person on the AI side, then we detect the face, and we look for the eyes.”

“We take the temperature of the eyes because that’s the closest point to the core of the person’s body temperature,” he added.

“Since higher temperature is one of the first symptoms, these cameras can be life-saving— warning the person that they could have the virus and encouraging that person to take serious steps to self-quarantine,” the representative added in an email, suggesting that the company could deploy them at polling locations. “Although many voters today are bound to get it, steps in the coming weeks could prevent them from spreading the bug to loved ones and strangers alike.”

The representative claimed that the software is accurate within half a degree and that it detects a dozen different parts on the body. They added the system has “no facial recognition, no personal tracking.”

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Ciabarra says the alert goes directly to the client.

The product is not yet launched publicly, but is already available directly to customers of the gun detection product, the representative added.

“This is a great long term solution: if you have a fever, you go home,” Lisa Falzone, co-founder of Athena, said, referring to how clients could implement the technology.

Falzone confirmed Athena has a military client for its gun-detection product. Ciabarra added that clients will get this new add-on for free, although they do need a thermal camera themselves.

Thermal temperature systems are commonly used in China and have been deployed during the coronavirus pandemic there. Civil liberties experts have warned that while new surveillance technologies could have some use during the pandemic, the emergency must not be used as an excuse to infringe on basic civil liberties.

The Athena representative claimed the product is live at The Capital Factory, a Texas coworking space. The Capital Factory did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Update: This piece has been updated to include more information from Athena co-founders Lisa Falzone and Christopher Ciabarra.

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