Sensors, Vision

Touchless temperature sensor developed

A touchless temperature sensor using infrared light to take a person's body temperature to detect COVID-19 and more has been developed by Rice University engineers. See video.

By Mike Williams April 26, 2021
Courtesy: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Getting around during the pandemic often requires getting your temperature taken to check for COVID-19. A team of seniors at Rice’s Brown School of Engineering wants to make that practice more practical for facilities around the world.

The low-cost temperature-at-a-distance device designed at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen uses infrared (IR) light to read a user’s forehead without contact and give instant feedback on an LED readout. The simple device costs about $75 to produce now, but the team is working to design a production model that will cost about $40.

The team calling itself “Hot Mess” will demonstrate the device during this year’s Engineering Design Showcase, an annual event with cash prizes for the top teams.

“Fever is such a big symptom for a lot of airborne diseases that we figured we could make something that would be applicable now, but also for other diseases and pandemics in the future,” said team member Caterina Grasso Goebel. “A lot of people use IR guns that don’t create enough distance between the person taking the screening and the person being screened.”

Rice University engineering student Kyla Barnwell adjusts the scissor lift that supports an inexpensive infrared sensor used to take temperatures without touching the users. Courtesy: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Rice University engineering student Kyla Barnwell adjusts the scissor lift that supports an inexpensive infrared sensor used to take temperatures without touching the users. Courtesy: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Of course, “simple devices” are never as simple as they seem. The students — bioengineering majors Grasso Goebel, Keaton Blazer and Diego Gonzalez, cognitive science major Kyla Barnwell, psychology major Sanjana Krishnan and sports medicine and exercise science major Michael Ngan — had to design and build not only the circuitry and software to deliver a result but also the mechanism that would allow users to set the sensor at the right height and trigger the reading from a short distance.

That involved rigging a scissor-lift mechanism that can be raised and lowered with dowels manipulated by foot. The sensor on their prototype can be raised to 5 feet, 11 inches, or lowered to 4’2″. “Our No. 1 goal for the next couple weeks is making sure it’s user-friendly enough,” Barnwell said, noting they hope to develop a shorter prototype for children or those using wheelchairs as well.

The ability to gang multiple sensors offers the opportunity to put them at various heights in an existing structure like a doorway, said Blazer, who focused on the electronics.

Video produced by Brandon Martin/Rice University

“All of the IR sensors out there basically do the same thing,” he said. “So one goal was to configure everything with a really low cost and adequate accuracy for the environment. We built our circuitry to process the data properly to account for ambient temperatures and all the rest.”

The device incorporates components the members expect will be available in low-resource settings to make repairs more practical. Barnwell, who spent the summer of 2019 in Malawi with Rice 360˚, got a sense of what is available by scouring local stores there.

“I also got to see the environments where a lot of these technologies will be implemented,” said Barnwell, who visited marketplaces, hospitals and other locations where a temperature sensor would be most useful.

The sensor is battery powered, Grasso Goebel said, to alleviate concerns over steady power supplies in developing countries.

– Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Mike Williams
Author Bio: Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.