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NEWS | July 16, 2020

NSWC Crane engineers develop rapidly deployable tech for detecting fever

By Audrey C. Deiser, NSWC Crane Corporate Communications

CRANE, Ind. – Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) scientists and engineers have developed a sensor agnostic, Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) compliant, thermal imaging system that detects fever, a symptom associated with COVID-19. The system requires only three pieces of hardware and a computer to work, the software was developed to increase military readiness and be rapidly deployable to the fleet by leveraging existing fleet assets.

“When we were first asked by the Navy COVID-19 Rapid Response Team to start looking at solutions, our first question was, ‘How can we most quickly save the greatest number of lives?’” said Aaron Cole, the Chief Engineer/Scientist of Electro Optics/Infrared Technology Development. “The answer was a software package and basic system architecture that is Information Assurance compliant and can be used on any regular Navy NMCI computer and which is compatible with 99 percent of infrared sensors being used in the world – and by our military – right now.”

The team is able to use almost any available sensor because the software is focused on threshold detection – figuring out if someone has a fever, not what that specific fever degree is. Crane engineers knew detecting exactly what someone’s fever is would not be necessary, as protocol dictates that anyone with even a low-grade fever should seek medical help.

To use the software, only a regular NMCI computer with capture card, any Department of Defense infrared sensor, and a calibrated black body are necessary. The black body is a scientific tool used as the temperature reference. The software uses the black body temperature to compare with the temperature of a person. Nearly all Navy ships already have a compatible infrared sensor and computer, which will increase cost savings and minimize time to implementation. The solution may take as little as $5,000 per ship to implement compared to proposed commercial solutions of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“In an office, for example, the infrared sensor is trained on the door, and picks up the person walking in,” said Cole. “If the person has a fever, the software translates that as red splotches on the face, visible on the monitor. We can help those people right away and make sure they don’t interact with anyone else.”

The system also works outdoors at security checkpoints and on the decks of ships in challenging environments. It is capable of detecting fevers in near real time - every 0.016 seconds. It works on individuals and moving crowds from a few feet to a distance of approximately 200 yards.

“We can easily measure the temperatures of moving people at any range our DoD systems can see,” said Cole. “We made this system to alert people to a fever they may not even know they have.”

A second, more advanced version of the software uses machine learning, which means it needs to be given images in order to learn how to detect fever. Since no relevant data set of this size or kind existed, the Crane team had to collect it themselves. Over one week, thermal images of more than 200 volunteers were collected of people in a variety of vehicles and in various lighting and weather conditions. The result was a minimum of 873,000 data points for the machine to learn from and use.

“What’s interesting is that not only is the software unique, but so is the data set it runs on,” said Nova Carden, a Division Manager in the Special Warfare and Expeditionary Systems Department. “We have the potential to help modify some universal standards with the images collected.”

The team expressed gratitude at the number of volunteers.

“The data we collected is the most invaluable part of this technology. It’s second to none,” said Cole. “It was humbling to see how many Crane employees understood the value of the data and took time out of their day to help us.”

Teamwork was essential in completing this task, compressing a process that can take years of Research and Development (R&D), purchasing, approvals, testing and evaluation, and more into weeks. Carden said the key was having leadership and all involved parties on call.

“Having all the usual project reviewers and approvers on standby and conducting daily meetings meant we were able to move fast,” said Carden. “At the same time, we were able to ensure that the team maintained the same level of technical rigor that we normally do – even though we were moving much faster.”

The accelerated pace of the project was possible in part due to changes the purchasing team had been working on for almost two years. Carden said R&D and Science and Technology (S&T) purchasing can be frustrating, because scientists and engineers might not know exactly what they need to purchase before experimentation. She said the purchasing team recognized their unique need, starting a pilot program to address these issues.

“It’s all about communication, and we’ve been working for years through multiple rapid improvement events with the stakeholders to develop this pilot program to give our S&T folks what they need, when they need it, to accomplish their jobs,” said Shannon Loper, Purchasing Requisition Branch Manager. “The groundwork our team laid through this pilot program made it possible for us to move at the speed this project required.”

The patent for the thermal imaging solution is pending, leaving the door open for other commercial applications in the future.

“The Naval COVID-19 team asked Crane for a solution to detecting fever, and possibly received much more. There are easily many more concepts that this technology could support,” said Dan Cabel, NSWC Crane’s Special Operations Liaison. “It could be transitioned for other warfighting technology integration.”

For information on how you can gain access this technology, contact Jenna Dix with NSWC Crane’s Office of Research and Technology Applications. Ms. Dix can be reached at jenna.dix@navy.mil.

About NSWC Crane

NSWC Crane is a naval laboratory and a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) with mission areas in Expeditionary Warfare, Strategic Missions and Electronic Warfare. The warfare center is responsible for multi-domain, multi- spectral, full life cycle support of technologies and systems enhancing capability to today's Warfighter.

Join Our Team! NAVSEA employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce - from students and entry level employees to experienced professionals and individuals with disabilities. We support today's sophisticated Navy and Marine Corps ships, aircraft, weapon systems and computer systems. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, IT and cyber specialists, as well as trade and other support professionals to ensure the U.S. Navy can protect and defend America. Please contact NSWC Crane Human Resources at crane_recruiting@navy.mil.