Original publication: Medium
By Gary Fowler
There is an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and uncertainty in the air. It’s hard to know how long the pandemic will be afflicting us, when the eeriness of the situation will come to an end, or when everything will get back to normal.
But not everything is lost. The entire world has come together by self-isolating and socially distancing themselves to help fight COVID-19.
And today, we have the right resources to tap into for the extra support in our joint efforts. Today’s pandemic we face is different from any other because it’s happening in a highly digitized world driven by the latest technological advancements.
Out of the many innovations in our age, artificial intelligence is the one that has the potential to aid in making the US — and the world — safe and open again. Specifically, the application of AI technology to video analysis, facial recognition, object detection or as a thermal tool could help us in the difficult task of balancing social distancing with the uninterrupted operation of many facilities that provide us with necessary resources to nourish and take care of ourselves (think: grocery stores, pharmacies, takeout and delivery, etc.).
Such sophisticated technologies would ideally operate in a SaaS space and be offered as cloud solutions to ensure maximum scalability and easy deployment. The real challenge that such technologies face — being already deployed across different public spaces such as airports — need to take a step forward and become viable cloud solutions to have a wider reach and minimal costs. A number of such solutions have already reached such a level, with over 55,000 cameras deployed in airports and public transport spaces, bringing the future of a safe and open world a step closer.
So, what are some specific ways such innovative technologies can offer help to us and small businesses fighting our ways through the pandemic?
Isolation tracking by facial recognition
At the very basic level, the latest achievements in sophisticated video surveillance could allow us to rely on facial recognition to detect people who have tested positive for the virus. With the ability to recognize facial features down to the smallest detail, the current AI technology can be taught to detect these features across the nation based on current databases to differentiate between potential carriers of the virus, those who have received a vaccine or carry antibodies.
The system can easily notify the facility staff about the customers entering the stores and facilitate the distancing between them, allow track foot traffic and make the operation day-to-day safer, more streamlined and healthier.
Mask or no mask?
The powerful object detection features AI brings to the table don’t just allow you to see whether people wear sunglasses or hats.
In the context of the current pandemic, this technology can help further enforce the use of face masks by customers and attendees of the stores and facilities still operating and supporting us on a daily basis. It can quickly determine if the customer has a face cover on and notify the facility management about the absence of it in order to allow other customers to practice more care and discretion within the store — or help the staff enforce the requirement for a face mask more easily.
This way, the employees in the store can take a breath when delivering value to the customers and stop worrying about potentially missing a customer who appeared in the store unprotected and put other customers at risk of catching the virus. Instead, the staff can direct its full attention towards taking the best care possible of its customers, with no distractions.
Fever detection by a thermal camera
Modern cameras aren’t just good at detecting certain external qualities about in-store customers; they can also evaluate how they may be feeling internally — that is, estimate their body temperature and quickly catching signs of a fever.
As one of the principal symptoms of COVID-19 — and with CDC’s recommended temperature of 100.4F — fever can serve as a potential indicator of whether the customer is at the risk of spreading the virus. In fact, fever has affected 87.9% of people infected with COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization. Being able to estimate the temperature levels of incoming people with the help of AI-powered thermal cameras can support local merchants in their efforts to be more cautious with their customers and detect people who, unconsciously, might be carriers themselves.
Large companies such as Walmart, Amazon, Instacart and Starbucks among others have already begun recognizing the value in fever-detecting strategies. As of today, these giants have dipped their toes in tracking employee body temperature levels when they report to work and provide self-monitoring kits for them outside their workspace.
With the addition of AI technology that is highly integrated and allows uninterrupted and more far-reaching monitoring across the general public, these initiatives can be taken yet another step further in the efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
Keeping the distance at all times
Finally — and most importantly — as we tend to often get caught up in the moment and subconsciously return to the norm of being close to and engaging with other humans, we can rely on AI’s ability to accurately calculate and monitor the distance between us without us having to worry about forgetting it. Social distancing is a challenge, but with AI-powered video’s help, we can have an external and accurate source to rely on to maintain the necessary distance at all times, especially in confined spaces such as stores and other open facilities.
It also makes regulation and operations easier for the merchants — they won’t have to keep their eye out in all directions, following all their customers at once to remind them about the necessary distance. Nor do they have to keep their customers out in fear of the risk of breaking the distance rules. Now, they can enjoy supporting their communities as they rely on the AI technology to look after the customers and send notifications about appropriate distancing.
An AI-powered collaborative security platform could be the necessary boost that people around the nation need to support their joint efforts in fighting the virus.
Imagine smart cities in the future for a second: these are safe hubs of communities where there is utmost trust between people, an overall sense of security, and at the basis of such a “safe haven” is the ability to avoid danger thanks to technology that looks out for the people and identifies risks beforehand.
Well, the future is now due to the pandemic — and today more than ever, these technologies need to be implemented and help us take a fast leap towards creating these safe communities of the future. Such AI-powered tools and platforms can enable open businesses and facilities to locate persons of interest — be that those who have a fever or aren’t wearing a mask — and allow efficient, quick and streamlined pandemic monitoring by maintaining the necessary isolation measures.
And all this can help reopen America and the world safe again. Soon.