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New Zealand scientists develop temperature-testing tech

Scientists from New Zealand are developing mass temperature-testing tech in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two teams of researchers have been awarded more than US $1 million from a new US $25 million government fund for innovations targeted at the coronavirus.

According to news reports, one of the groups is taking low-cost, smart thermal camera systems designed for tracking predators threatening native birds and repurposing it to monitor crowds from a safe distance.

The Cocophany Project, which consists of specialists from the University of Canterbury, the Auckland Bioengineering Institute and Callaghan Innovation, aims to create an automatic device that can measure forehead temperature to within half a degree.

Canterbury mechanical engineers Julian Phillips, professor Tim Giffney, and Professor Mark Jermy have developed a temperature reference to give a constant check calibration of the devices, which are now under trial and are hoped to be rolled out shortly, the report said.

If thermal imaging cameras are deployed for temperature screening, this stable temperature reference can help with accuracy.

The team hopes this stable in-frame temperature reference could be useful as a simple, rapidly deliverable approach.

Also, by putting a stable temperature source in view of the camera, the system could continuously check its reading, and make adjustments.

One of the scientists noted that the main challenge in developing the reference was coming up with a design that could be rapidly built with minimal resources, and from local supplies as international freight is at an almost complete standstill.

The report stated that about 30 soldiers and police officers from Burnham, were used to test and calibrate the cameras. The device could be at airports, hospitals, and supermarkets around the country.

Another team is working toward a matchbox-sized body sensor that can be worn under the arm to monitor whether someone has a fever.

The device, called Nightingale, is designed to protect those most at risk and avoid cluster outbreaks of COVID-19 in places like rest homes.

A representative explained that it could also drastically cut the need for physical contact between frontline medical staff and patients such as rest home residents.

Nightingale uses little power and can send a signal across many kilometres. While other temperature measuring devices do exist, they don’t provide the kind of continuous mass monitoring at a distance that this one does so it’s really a world-first, the news report quoted a scientist.

While the armpit was not the ideal site to measure body temperature, Nightingale was a smart device that used data from a motion sensor to screen out erroneous readings, only sending small amounts of accurate data to a web-based interface for remote monitoring by nursing or health care staff.

The team said it could also be used to check on self-isolated people at home or in quarantine, or those in small rural communities.

With intellectual property secured, and with a prototype already built, Nightingale could be rapidly deployed and the inventors have entered into a research partnership with Oceania Healthcare’s aged care facilities to test it.

While carefully designed safety protocols would need to be in place, it could happen within week.

The tech and science entrepreneurs formed Nightingale to operate research in partnership with the University of Auckland’s Department of Exercise Science and Medical Technologies Centre of Research Excellence.

In another project, a private company is manufacturing a new COVID-19 testing device, called the Liberty16.

The mobile device would be ideal for use in places like airports, pre-screening international travellers once borders reopen. Passengers could be tested and would get the result before their flight, indicating whether they should travel or not.

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