A captivating robot turns temperature screening into “feel good” experience

Robotic temperature screen device Misty Robotics
Misty uses her voice capabilities to issues a greeting, ask a few health screening questions, and then directs the person to remove glasses and look at her face before taking a temperature reading.

Misty, the programmable person robot, is designed to be almost anything an engineer can dream up, from senior companion and wellbeing monitor to friendly pal who will tirelessly play catch with your dog.

Now joining the fight against the pandemic, the engineers at Misty Robotics have defined a new role for her: A highly engaging temperature screening assistant. It is a new, turnkey offering designed for customers who want to screen temperatures at a point of entry to a facility, but who likely do not have the technical background of an engineer the robotics platform was originally created for.

“Misty was ‘purpose-built’ for developers who use the platform to create their own applications, using third party APIs, hardware modifications, etc. Typically, we  provide developer support, sample code, and documentation,” said Ian Bernstein, Founder and CTO of Misty Robotics. “But for this application, we started getting inquiries from all sorts of end user companies that do not have technical people. So, we knew we had to develop a solution that was turnkey and came with super easy and clear setup and operating instructions.”

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The Misty II Standard Edition already comes loaded with capabilities from a high-resolution camera for face detection and video recording, a built-in array of microphones and text-to-speech detection engine, capacitive touch panels, the ability to play and record audio clips, SLAM mapping and navigation, a neural processing engine, and 3D imaging for AI and machine learning models.

All it needed to become a powerful temperature screening assistant, said Bernstein, was the addition of a thermal camera for taking temperature measurements. Customers plug it into their WiFi network, configure a few settings, and they are up and running.

It was an easy modification: Engineers simply removed some of the mapping and navigation sensors not needed for this application, replacing them with a thermal camera, ideally located in the robot’s visor. The unit comes with a stand containing a black body temperature reference device used to calibrate the temperature sensor and specially designed floor stickers to designate where a person needs to stand when their temperature is taken.

Controlling that distance was important, because the further a thermal camera is away from the object being measured, the more the pixels are spread out over an area, and the lower the image resolution—and therefore the less accurate the measurement. People counter that with more expensive, higher resolution cameras.

“Definitely the thermal camera in this solution was by far our highest cost,” said Bernstein. “Even so, being able to ensure that the person is standing in a very specific spot located 22 inches from the camera, we are able to use a relatively low-resolution thermal array with a 120 deg wide field of view for an accuracy within +/- 0.5 C.”

From a hassle to happy experience

It’s the other features that already come with the platform that makes what the hassle of getting your temperature taken into an engaging, interactive experience.

When an individual enters the facility, Misty uses her voice capabilities to greet the person, ask a few health screening questions, and then directs the person to remove glasses and look at her face, and then does a short countdown. “We don’t actually need that much, but it’s just to make sure we get a good reading,” said Bernstein.

There is an immediate pass/fail determination and recording, with results handled through web-based administration and reporting. Natural Language Processing (NLP) is used in the speech recognition process. An upgraded version offers additional custom question capabilities, choice of language, custom greetings and the ability to elect to not store screening data for privacy reasons.

In pilot testing at local companies, Bernstein’s team has had an opportunity to observe first-hand how people interact with the robotic temperature taker. “It definitely was an attention grabber and people were excited about it,” he said. “Probably the magic moment was seeing people react at the end of the day, when Misty plays an exit message. People can be pretty heads down when they are leaving work, but we saw so many of them turn around and smile at Misty as she bid them goodbye. They seemed to form a real connection with her.”

From start to finish, each temperature measurements takes about 35 seconds, which Bernstein said makes it ideal for locations with a low to medium-level flow of people, such as a medical office where people may arrive in a more-or-less steady stream at 20-second intervals.

The team is studying strategies for scaling the unit to accommodate higher flows. One approach might be the use of a phone app or QR code for administering the screening questions, thereby reducing the temperature-taking time to mere seconds. Other future enhancements could include integration with weather data, for example, so that greetings could be customized as in “Hey, hope you’re enjoying the warm day!” Another option would be to integrate the system with access control, so that an entry door does not open until a person has passed the temperature check.

With the success of its local pilots, Bernstein said that Misty Robotics will be going into mass production in August. The base unit will be priced at around $2999, plus $59 per month. The unit can also be leased.

Ian Bernstein will be talking more about lessons learned with Misty and its AI capabilities during his keynote during FierceAI Week, Monday August 10, 2020 at 11:00 am. For more information and to register for this free event, go here.

RELATED: A robot that reminds you to wear a mask

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