As we watched the COVID-19 pandemic unfold, we knew businesses would need to find safe ways to help bring their people back to work. So, our Emerging Technology group assembled a team of technical experts to help design a low-cost solution to address some of the complex re-entry issue. This project represented the same type of emerging tech expertise Protiviti brings to every client looking to grow their business by investing in connected devices (IoT), artificial intelligence, blockchain, RPA, quantum computing or the next emerging solution.
The problem statement focused on solving a critical issue organizations such as healthcare providers, schools and other essential personnel are facing right now: how to screen personnel to successfully identify those that might be sick and put protocols in place to reduce the risk of infecting others. Many of these organizations are already facing budget constraints and we believed the funds they did have could be better used in helping people rather than buying expensive, difficult-to-deploy equipment.
Our solution team consisted of experts from our Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, data analytics and security groups. By leveraging design thinking principles, within one hour of our first meeting, we defined the problem and initial requirements. Our challenge was to develop a low-cost thermal sensor that could be used to detect a potential fever from a distance of six feet, offering the important option of no human contact required. The solution also had to be secure and not transmit or retain personally identifiable information (PII) to avoid complex compliance regulations and omit security concerns. We also wanted the solution to be easy to deploy so a person without a deep technical background could install and manage it. We had an initial budget of $500 to create the solution.
By the next day, we had an initial design leveraging several options for low cost thermal sensors, artificial intelligence computer vision models to identify and target the forehead, a 3D printed case, program logic to analyze the data and identify potential high temperature conditions, and test cases and parameters to test the solutions for error rates and tolerances.
The team quickly moved into testing and, not surprisingly, encountered issues. First, availability of sensors in the COVID-19 environment was difficult. Supply chains were affected and what little supply was available was quickly being used. Luckily, we were able to procure a few different sensors, however, we encountered additional issues. Based on initial testing, the low-cost thermal sensors had high error margins (greater than three degrees Fahrenheit) which made the false negative rate too high to be effective.
We tested various sensor types of increasing cost and found acceptable error rates only in sensors over $1,000. Based on our sensor research, we found one that met all our requirements for under $2,000. While we did not meet our original objective of developing a solution under $500, we did find a solution to the issue very quickly and still at a manageable cost. Also, we believe the amount of research and development we conducted in such a short period of time provides considerable value to organizations, helping them avoid the challenges we encountered.
In a separate blog, we detail the steps involved in this project, including how we quickly pivoted from our original plan to a more realistic solution, as we methodically evaluated possible built-from-scratch options. Ultimately, we selected a commercially available solution, as it provided the temperature sensing features needed, at a realistic price point. This tool, combined with our process expertise, now gives us the ability to help clients quickly and efficiently ramp up getting people back to an environment that is safe and secure.
Throughout this project, we called upon Protiviti’s Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning group, as well as other in-house subject matter experts. We quickly developed a solution that is now available to clients looking to safely and securely return their people to work, school, stores or wherever people need to gather. Hospitals, retailers, restaurateurs, airlines and many other industries stand to benefit from this solution and Protiviti is ready to partner with them to implement this and other as yet undiscovered solutions to the challenges they face in this “new normal.”
Working in a world that has been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic demands solutions that are agile, creative, safe, secure and call upon the newest technologies available. We learned that we can, indeed, quickly get people back to successfully living their lives. In the end, this effort showed great minds of different disciplines working together can accomplish great things in short periods of time.
To learn more about our Emerging Technologies capabilities, contact us.