Israeli company Opgal Optronics has developed a heat sensor that can pinpoint people in a crowd suffering from a fever, offering the potential to slow the spread of pandemic illnesses.


How do you stop a virus like swine flu from sweeping the world? Well you could start at the airport. An Israeli company claims that this is a real possibility with its heat sensor technology that can detect fever in passengers travelling through an airport, a train station or other transportation hubs.

Opgal Optronics Industries’ Fever Detection and Alarm System (FDA), can pinpoint people in a crowd that are suffering from elevated temperatures.

The first model of the product was brought to market during the global SARS epidemic, in 2003 and it later found a niche market among Asian customers a couple of years ago when Avian flu became a widespread problem there. The company sold more than 300 units to Asian nations.

Now the Karmiel-based company believes it’s the perfect tool to halt the spread of swine flu or other pandemics that might threaten the world’s health.

The FDA is an infrared thermal imaging device that can sense the temperature of the body and face in real time. Using sophisticated sensors and algorithms that consider ambient temperature, the FDA device can sense within a half degree centigrade if someone is suffering from a fever, says company CEO Dror Sharon. 

Too hot to pass by

One symptom of the swine flu, for example, is a high body fever over 100.4° f (38°c). The FDA system can flag individuals with elevated body temperatures that pass within its detection cameras. 

If it detects a person with a fever, an alarm will sound and security officials can pull that person aside for further questioning or a swab, as done in some airports where passengers show symptoms of the swine flu today. 

“This non-invasive system, which costs about $10-15,000 per system, can be immediately deployed in airports and other transportation hubs since it does not require any special infrastructure,” Sharon tells ISRAEL21c

“The idea behind the technology is that it can detect from a distance if a person has a fever or not. You can set the camera to a specific threshold, and can know pretty accurately what temperature each person is,” he continues. “It’s good for anyone who comes into an airport or a closed environment — a factory or at a school – wherever you want you can see if this person has a fever or not. If his temperature registers about 37°C, he is suspected to be sick with something.” 

Sharon says the company is currently dealing with many inquiries from around the world. “Because it can scan large groups of people at a time, it will be extremely useful in keeping the flow of passengers moving and enable public gatherings during these difficult times,” he explains. 

Heat sensors that help jets takeoff and land

Opgal was founded in 1987 and sees tens of millions of dollars in sales every year. It is the daughter company of the security companies Rafael and Elbit Systems, and was set up to take technologies developed for the military sector and transform them into devices for the civilian market.

One of Opgal’s leading products is a thermal imaging technology that uses heat sensors to help private jets negotiate the runway during snowstorms, sandstorms, and extremely limited visibility. Some 30-40 percent of the company’s business comes from this product.

“The camera allows a pilot to see in any visibility,” Sharon tells ISRAEL21c. “Fog, dust, haze, snow – the camera can see through these obstacles and show a pilot [runway lights] so he can land safely.” 

Opgal is already working with the US company Gulf Stream, and the Federal Express fleet, and can be found in hundreds of private jets throughout the country. 

Now major airlines in the US are testing Opgal’s equipment for large commercial flights and it’s thought to be only a matter of time before a major commercial aircraft company installs the technology. 

This month, Opgal plans to release a new detection technology in the US for pinpointing gas leaks.