India is gearing up to install AI-based ‘Covid surveillance’ cameras that detect body temperatures of individuals and whether a person is wearing a mask. First off the block is Indian Railways, which has called for tenders to purchase the systems for railway stations and other places expected to see significant footfall, with a few railway zones having already concluded the purchase, such as in Mumbai.
Officials said the cameras were meant for the next phase of containment strategy to go hand in hand with India’s gradual return to normalcy.
However, Railways has excluded a crucial specification called “black body” temperature in the cameras in many cases. While the cameras with black body sensing capability cost upwards of Rs 4 lakh a piece, industry sources said the ones without this feature would be cheaper by around half of that per camera.
Railways’ telecom arm Railtel floated a tender to purchase around 800 such camera systems. It initially did not include black body detection as a specification but has now issued a corrigendum to include it.
Tenders called by Central Railway over the past one month — for installation at large stations in Mumbai and North Frontier Railway in Guwahati — sought the cameras to have the ability to detect black body temperature, but the latest crop of tenders called by zones such as Northern, Southern and South Western Railway, have not included this in their specifications, giving mixed signals to the industry.
“In the post-Covid scenario, not having this ability in cameras meant to detect fever in a person may have implications that people with symptoms like fever might not get detected and enter public places,” claimed an industry insider.
In its enforcement policy for telethermographic systems as part of Covid-19 public health emergency recommendations, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists “accurate blackbody temperature reference source” as one of the specifications for accuracy of temperature from a Covid point of view in such devices. These thermal cameras can cover large areas, detecting and recording temperatures of multiple people at once.
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However, an Indian Railway spokesman said both types of cameras are acceptable, depending on the purpose. “Where mass transit is there, scanners with black body are preferable. For normal/controlled movement, scanners without black body are acceptable,” he said.
The spokesman said the South Western Railway wanted AI-based systems with face detection technology. “Besides the advantage of needing no calibration, this specification will have higher accuracy,” he said, adding, “the issue of specification of black body is infructuous. All decisions were taken at zonal levels keeping in view the best needs and solutions in the given circumstances. Both types of devices are efficient and good.”
Around 35 companies participated in the tender for North Frontier Railway while 15 competed for the one floated by Central Railway, signifying a growing pie for these businesses in post-Covid India.