Chinese AI Smart Glasses Check Temperature of Hundreds of People in Minutes to Help Identify Coronavirus Cases

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Augmented reality glasses with built-in thermal imaging capabilities are now being used in China’s Zhejiang province to screen the body temperatures of crowds as the government begins to ease the strict COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in some regions of the country.

The devices, made by Chinese technology start-up Rokid, are currently being worn by security staff at Hongyuan Park, a part of the Xixi Wetland preserve in Hangzhou city. Images of the devices show they resemble a normal pair of sunglasses, except for a camera that scans heat signatures.

The glasses can check the temperatures of hundreds of people in minutes and will help monitor queues at the park’s entrance, the South China Morning Post reported.

According to the news outlet, each pair of the infrared-reading smart glasses will make a « digital record » of any citizens with a fever and can also support a form of facial recognition.

The rollout comes after months of aggressive quarantine measures from China’s government following the spread of the novel coronavirus which emerged in the city of Wuhan last December.

Authorities relied on the nation’s vast surveillance and big data networks to monitor, contain and track citizens, with technology often made in collaboration with law enforcement agencies.

In recent weeks, mobile applications have played a key role in determining which citizens are able to travel, with a piece of software assigning people a color code based on health status.

Rokid said this week that it had recently provided its smart glasses to security officials and highway police in Hangzhou, Huzhou, and Quzhou, according to the South China Morning Post.

The start-up is based in Hangzhou, which is the capital of China’s Zhejiang province. Crunchbase says the start-up has $158.3 million in funds and maintains research centers in Beijing and San Francisco.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says thermal scanning is an effective method of detecting people with a higher than normal body temperature, one symptom of COVID-19.

But it warns scanning does not detect people who are infected but are not yet sick « because it takes between two and 10 days before people who are infected become sick and develop a fever. »

It’s unclear how widespread the rollout of the new glasses has been. Last year, it emerged Chinese police in multiple cities were using glasses that could access real-time facial and car registration records from a national database while assigned at airports and highway inspection stops.

This month, Rokid has posted multiple times about the new smart glasses on social media, with little engagement. A short marketing video on YouTube — seemingly intended to capitalize on the COVID-19 outbreak — dramatically demonstrated how they work, at least under lab conditions.

The company shared a blog post to Facebook on March 16 which said the glasses could work well in airports, subways, businesses and shopping malls to maintain public safety.

It read, « Such a system can measure body temperature with a safe distance about 2 meters (6.6 feet) while avoiding physical contact. The module can quickly perform the task with great accuracy in as fast as 0.5 seconds, outperforming the infrared thermometer’s 2-3 seconds measuring time. »

Rokid has been contacted for additional comment by Newsweek.

China has recorded more than 81,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and at least 3,280 deaths at the time of writing, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. More than 73,773 people are believed to have made a recovery. Globally, infection numbers continue to rise.

Authorities in China said this week that the lockdown in the Hubei province would now be eased, while Wuhan … where the new virus was first detected … would remain closed off until April 8.

A small glimpse of normality is starting to return to some regions, the Associated Press reported this week after the reopening of a city zoo in the Beijing area and some sections of the Great Wall. Technology giant Apple has reopened all of its stores in the country, the BBC reported.

The Guardian reported China had recorded no new locally-transmitted COVID-19 cases for the second day running. New cases in mainland China were from travelers from abroad.

But not everyone appeared convinced statistics being reported by the state are accurate. « I don’t believe [the numbers]. This epidemic will not disappear so easily, » one resident told the newspaper.