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Coronavirus

Japan chipmaker unveils AI face recognition tool to detect fever

THine touts software for public venues, screening people with masks

The new facial recognition system can be used at train stations, office buildings, shopping malls and other places where large numbers of people congregate.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japanese semiconductor maker THine Electronics has developed a facial recognition system that can record body temperatures from less than a foot away and identify individuals even while wearing face masks.

The system is among a slate of new products launched by the technology industry as countries prepare to reopen after citywide lockdowns and shelter-at-home orders to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Japan's monthlong state of emergency is expected to end on May 6.

Amid concerns of a second wave of infections as seen in Singapore, governments and businesses are looking for tools to balance infection control with an urgent need to restart their economies. Nikkei reported last week that the Japanese government has developed a tracing app that will notify individuals who have come into contact with confirmed coronavirus patients.

In a soft rollout, THine has installed its facial recognition system, which uses artificial intelligence, at entrances in office buildings, hospitals, shopping malls and other venues that see large public gatherings. Wider sales of the system, which cost less than 300,000 yen ($2,784) will begin around the end of May.

The system can recognize individuals from a distance of about 30 centimeters, or less than 12 inches, and take body temperature readings within a margin of error of 0.3 degrees Celsius. If installed on an entry gate, the system can bar an individual if a fever is detected.

THine Electronics' new AI-based facial recognition system can measure people's body temperatures. (Photo courtesy of THine)

Up to 50,000 faces can be stored at once. Questions have been raised about the privacy issues posed by contact tracing and facial recognition software. The Financial Times reported this week that nearly 300 experts wrote a letter warning that software designed for coronavirus prevention can be co-opted for mass surveillance by some governments.

THine did not immediately respond to questions regarding data ownership, and how long faces and temperature readings would be stored. The Japanese government's contact tracing app will use Bluetooth, not GPS data, to detect other app users in proximity. The app's developers said data will be deleted after a certain period.

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