A Different Kind of Doctor: How Medical AI Is Helping the Aviation Industry Fight COVID

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Fazing Labs’ Thermal Gateway. Image via Fazing Labs

Airports and airlines, as the gateways between nations, have a critical role in slowing the spread of COVID-19. What part does artificial intelligence play?

More than 22,000 Etihad Airways passengers completed a Medicus AI COVID-19 risk assessment in the two months since the service launched with the airline. Of those self-assessments, around 86 percent revealed a “very low” probability of COVID-19 risk. Two percent generated a “high” probability score. 

The platform uses artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret data in real time and offer up a personalized user experience. “The medical-reasoning engine operates based on the exact reasoning doctors use when looking at an individual’s health data,” Baher Al Hakim, CEO, Medicus AI, says.

On top of keeping up with doctor’s orders, Medicus AI incorporates the latest medical guidelines issued by the federal governments of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Switzerland, China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “These changes are translated and applied to the platform either through an adjustment in the risk-assessment algorithm or in the recommendation text itself,” says Dr. Al Hakim. 

“The medical-reasoning engine operates based on the exact reasoning doctors use when looking at an individual’s health data.” – Baher Al Hakim, Medicus AI

Etihad’s chief digital officer, Frank Meyer, says, “Responses from guests have been positive so far, with the service valued among users, especially in these uncertain times.” The survey is optional, and while its existence may help put certain passengers at ease, its efficacy largely depends on how forthcoming passengers choose to be. 

AI has been applied elsewhere in more certain terms. California-based Fazing Labs, for example, has developed a thermal imaging system called Thermal Gateway, which detects fever in 0.4 seconds, allowing airlines to quickly screen for possible COVID-19 cases.

Thermal Gateway has been implemented in a number of high-traffic settings, including Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, where it performs a facial scan, focusing on heat signatures around the nose, mouth and tear ducts. Because tear ducts are unaffected by factors like hot weather or exertion, they’re the body’s best external indicator of fever. 

Data gathered from Thermal Gateway can help determine if and where there’s an outbreak, and whether it’s at a specific gate, building or cluster of buildings. “We anonymize data and can compare with local levels to let users know if their outbreak appears to be similar to that in the surrounding region, or if it’s something else, like an infection in their facility,” says Fazing Labs founder Noah Kindler. “We can also monitor for ‘surges’ in certain cases. For example, we can know if a flight with infected people landed. In addition to monitoring, we allow users to analyze and know what happened, and send alerts if we notice something significant that requires action.”

The screening process is non-invasive: Passengers simply walk through the gate and can feel secure knowing everyone on the other side is fever-free. “We are staunch believers that an accurate fever scan can be positioned as a service to passengers and not another checkpoint or dimension of security to be overcome,” says Fazing Labs COO Peter Sorckoff. “Speed of throughput has been a primary tenet in our product design because the best way to reinforce the positive benefits of the scan is to make it a frictionless part of the journey.”

No one single technology can guarantee passengers that it’s safe to fly during the pandemic, but non-invasive health checks and intelligent analysis may be what is needed for airlines and airports to start rebuilding that confidence.

“A Different Kind of Doctor” was originally published in the 10.4 November/December issue of APEX Experience magazine.

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