As the global pandemic continues, some manufacturers are realizing they can repurpose their LIDAR systems for monitoring employee distancing.
LIDAR for Remote Sensing During COVID-19
Sep 24, 2020
by Jean Thilmany
As the global pandemic continues, some manufacturers are realizing they can repurpose their 3D LIDAR systems—now used for security or product tracking—to monitor employee distancing and behavior, said Justin Bean, global marketing director for Lumada Video Insights at Hitachi Vantara, which produces manufacturing software.
Manufacturers’ use of geospatial technology should pick up quickly as manufacturers get back to work, said Martin Flood, vice president of special products at GeoCue Groups, which develops LIDAR and drone mapping software.
LIDAR, short for light detection and ranging, is a remote-sensing method that measures distances between objects through the use of pulsed laser light. The systems help autonomous vehicles maneuver. They’re used in airports to monitor the flow of passengers in real-time, and by manufacturers to monitor supply chains, said Flood. He spoke via the web at Geo Week, held in April.
These “visual” systems are not new to many industries that seek to capture data about their physical spaces, employee behavior, machine movements, and more. Think of the retail or airport spaces. But they’re only being used to a fraction of their potential at manufacturing plants, Bean said.
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In the manufacturing plant, LIDAR, along with thermal monitoring and video systems, can help keep illness at bay. Thermal monitoring equipment senses employees’ temperature so people don’t need to be manually scanned as they report to work, which is time-consuming and can be off-putting, Bean added.
When the pandemic recedes, the same thermal cameras that detected elevated workers’ body temperatures can be repurposed to look for leak and gas detection at the manufacturing plant.
Manufacturers and businesses, however, may not have thermal monitoring systems in place.
Researchers like those at Carnegie Mellon University are answering the call for help with COVID-19 by developing automated remote fever-screening technologies so first responders—and people who work together—can detect fevers from a distance.
The researchers are working on a system that delivers accuracy at lower costs. They want to provide reopening businesses an affordable tool for screening people as they come into a building, said Yang Cai, a senior systems scientist at the University’s CyLab.
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The project is more challenging than it might seem at first blush. The problem lies with the people themselves. They—we—exhibit complex behaviors, Cai said. People wear masks, ball hats, carry coffee mugs or boxes, walk-in different directions, stand and sit; these things make it difficult to detect someone’s forehead.
The CyLab researchers developed an algorithm to measure forehead temperatures on multiple faces. They fused data returned from multiple sensors and data sources, including thermal and visual, to find the desired accuracy.
The new system reduces false negative and false positive detection results. It also self-calibrates its own measurements to include factors of distance and ambient temperature.
In a short time, the novel coronavirus has changed the manufacturing landscape in ways that aren’t yet clear. One thing is clear, said Flood, of GeoCue Groups. He predicts that words like LIDAR, geospatial, and thermal monitoring will soon become everyday parlance for business leaders.
In other words, everyone can soon expect to have their temperature taken remotely at regular intervals.
Jean Thilmany is a science and technology writer based in Saint Paul, Minn.