Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram district has procured a thermal and optical imaging camera with AI-based face detection technology to screen people for high body temperature, the constituency’s MP Shashi Tharoor announced in a Facebook post. The device was procured using Tharoor’s MPLADS fund. The device is currently operational at the Thiruvananthapuram Central railway station, and was used to screen migrants who were departing for their home states on May 2, Anu S. Nair, Deputy Collector (DM), Thiruvananthapuram, told MediaNama. However, with the state now expecting a huge influx of people, especially from the Gulf countries, the district has requested for at least 4 more such devices for installation at the city’s airport.

The device was procured from Amsterdam due to the “unavailability of thermal cameras in Asia”, and was first transferred to Germany and then subsequently airlifted to Bengaluru. Tharoor, in his Facebook post said that all of his MPLADS fund has been exhausted, and “we are approaching other corporate groups to partner with us and the district administration” for procuring more such cameras. At the moment we don’t know which company has manufactured the camera, or for how much it was procured for; we have reached out to Shashi Tharoor’s office for more details.

It’s not a handheld device, but can be mounted on a tripod to screen large crowds, Nair said. “AI is needed to trace the temperature using thermal imaging photography”. Nair said that the camera has been optimised to detect body temperature higher than 36 degrees Celsius, and if it detects a temperature higher than that, a police official guarding the camera will ask the person to step out of the queue for further screening. “Unlike traditional thermal cameras, this camera captures temperature of all exposed body parts, and not just the forehead,” Nair said.

Cameras are using face detection for “superchecks”

When we asked why a camera like this needs to have face detection capability, Nair said that it was only detecting people’s faces, and not identifying them against any database. “The camera like a CCTV, can record footage as people pass through it,” he said. “It’s essential to have a feed of a person’s face because we wouldn’t know their identity as they pass through the device. So if a person has higher than normal body temperature, and if the system detects it, the footage can help us in identifying that person”.

The device will not always record footage, but it will be done for a “supercheck” Nair told us. We’re awaiting a response on what “supercheck” means in this context. When asked whether recorded footage would be retained and for how long, Nair told us that it is a policy decision to be taken by the Health Department, which hasn’t yet been taken. “We are undecided on that,” Nair said.