Faked Coronavirus Fever Detection, Athena Used Hikvision; Responds - Selling NDAA Compliant Cameras, Pledging 50% Of Profits to Victims

By John Honovich and Charles Rollet, Published Mar 24, 2020, 11:48am EDT (Info+)

US company, Athena Security, faked its coronavirus fever detection marketing, faked a customer, faked comments, and is now using Hikvision, IPVM has determined though Athena denies.

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The use or misuse of thermal cameras for coronavirus fever detection has exploded over the last month as organizations around the world try to constrain its spread.

The case of Athena security shows a very troubling pattern of companies taking advantage of the fear and desperation of users looking for any solution to this.

UPDATE: Athena officials spoke to IPVM before publishing and we included that in the original report. Now, Athena's CEO spoke with IPVM, saying the Athena branded camera they showed to KVUE (Hikvision white label) is not the type of camera they sell, that the cameras they do sell are NDAA compliant and that they have pledged "50% of the profits go to the victims from COVID". We have added a new section to cover this.

UPDATE: IPVM has found more fundamental problems with Athena's systems and claims - Athena CEO Criticizes 'Deplorable' 'Nitpicking', IPVM Refutes

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Comments (126)

Thank you for posting this. I have been seeing more and more about Athena and wondering about them, this clarifies things. I personally find it disappointing some people will take advantage of a crisis to make a quick buck, especially when it can compromise the health and safety of others.

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When there is human tragedy afoot there some that see dollar signs. Great to see Athena Security has called themselves out early.

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The only true thing here is the greatness of TacoDeli!

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I'll have to take your word for it. All their locations are in Texas. Their website helpfully points out that there isn't one with 100 miles of me, and suggests that I move.

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Texas is currently full and no longer accepting new tenants.

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I actually eat at that taco deli about twice a month (or at least until all the restaurants in Texas were recently closed due to Covid-19). The 'camera' that would exist to show that faked photo would have to be mounted to the glass storefront to capture that field of view.

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You would have thought, in these challenging times, that honesty and integrity were more important than ever. Not less. These advertisements, and the technology backing them up, show a worrying lack of both.

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If they're selling Chinese cameras to the U.S. military, isn't that a recipe for getting raided by the DoJ?

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If this was a comparison to a "used-car salesmen" it would come off as comically bad, but with this being a technology company that is so blatantly putting fraudulent advertising up is shocking. They do understand that the typical decision maker can, and often does, do research before purchasing technology, right?

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the typical decision maker can, and often does, do research before purchasing technology, right?

Right now, I think a lot of decision-makers are frantic to do anything to help their people and organizations so the type of careful longer analysis that would normally come in, well, normal times is often not being done.

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Great research. Thanks guys. Given its importance, I would like to suggest that this article be published for the public and not just for members.

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Rainald, thanks! At some point, we will open this up because we see the importance to the broader public but we also need to reward and provide value to the members that pay us.

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Wonderful article and well researched.

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Thank you for this! Our company is very familiar with AI for IR and called BS the moment we saw it...the lack of integrity is mind blowing to me. Worst yet, it drives a bigger wedge in the appropriate adoption of AI when you have companies willing to cash in reputation (if any) for short term profits.

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I actually have one of those Hikvision cameras on my house. It's fun to play with but is in no way accurate enough for what Athena is claiming. Mine looks just like theirs, except it doesn't have the Athena logo on it.

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regardless of whether the thing works, i found their website filter function extremely helpful in zeroing in on just the right product for my budget!

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@John Honovich I copied and pasted this article and sent it over to the the contact email for Fast Company. My hope is of course they update or retract the article to help avoid people getting bamboozled by this crap.

I realized after I sent I should have asked to copy and paste your content first, so I'm hoping you're OK with that (or have already contacted them directly).

Thank You,

Chris Anderson

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Chris, thanks, that's fine! I believe Charles reached out to some of the media to ask them / notify them, not sure if he received any response.

I am not optimistic most will update their stories as they tend to move on to the next thing as they cover such a broad array of topics.

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These guys won't want to admit that they were fooled. What we need to do is find someone that didn't originally report on how good Athena is, then get them to report on the Fraud. Maybe someone like Wired? I know that a lot of publications/outlets are tied together at the top, so it may take some detective work to figure out the right target.

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All that started from the Vice's article.

But IMO need to start from the Forbes

Also, will be good to share this research under the Youtube videos wherever it possible (e.g. KVUE)

We should act more aggressively and faster because they continue spreading this scam. Just a day ago pcmag wrote about them and share that article at Medium

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Just a day ago pcmag wrote about them

That PCMag article might be the worst, it reads like an advertorial:

Money quote:

The benefits of such a system are clear. It's very fast, non-contact, and can assess a large crowd of people, or a stream of people throughout a day autonomously. The limits of the system are 1,000 temperature reads per hour. Athena says its temperature sensor is accurate to 0.4 degrees Celsius and automatically calibrates itself to the ambient temperature of the area being monitored. The system is also capable of taking the temperature of multiple people at once and detects heat from 12 different areas of the body.

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When I read things like this in PCMag, CNet, etc., and I know that it is totally false claims and bad reporting, I really doubt the integrity of anything else they publish or recommend.

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.4 degrees C = 32.72 degrees F

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While that statement is true, you might not be making the argument you want.

I believe you are showing how inaccurate .4 degrees C would be.

This article will help. Basically, .4 C is about .8 F.

Converting temperatures

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I've sent this piece to all the media outlets that covered Athena's claims. I'll update if any respond.

I contacted VICE beforehand since their article was the first, and they told me "the piece is skeptical." That's not really true - the only real skepticism VICE displays is saying that Athena "claims" a lot of things, but they didn't do any work to confirm these claims. It's no surprise Athena added VICE's piece to their Press page.

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Fast Company - to their credit - have promptly updated their article:

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And PCMag told me they were looking into this.

No response from the other outlets yet.

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BTW: There is a Spanish company claiming 98,4% temperature accuracy with an AXIS Q2901-E Temperature Alarm Camera. The AXIS Datasheet however indicates a temperature accuracy of +/- 5° Celsius below 100° Celsius.

Has anybody used this solution or the AXIS Q2901-E for temperature measurements?

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Rainald, funny you should ask because I did see that a week ago. Below I copy what I had written in the original thermal fever post:

Note: Axis has a Temperature Alarm Camera, the Q2901-E, but Axis confirmed to us that they do not recommend it for human temperature measurement / fever detection.

I bring this up because there is a small analytics developer marketing an app running on this Axis camera to do so.

That said, Axis documentation is quite clear that it does not have the accuracy for such an application, e.g., the Q2901-E spec sheet says accuracy "Below 100 °C (212 °F): +/- 5 °C (+/-9 °F) accuracy" which is clearly nowhere close enough for human temperature measurement.

What Axis states is similar to FLIR's feedback for 'regular' thermal temperature cameras. We do suspect many companies are opportunistically marketing cameras that are not designed for such precision but are falsely claiming it.

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John, I read the article "Detecting Coronavirus Fevers With Thermal Cameras". I even shared it on Linkedin. But I didn't follow up with the comments. I came across it this morning through this post. Thanks for your hint.

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John,

Reach out and I'll put you in touch (and they were forewarned). No, I do not work for Athena.

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The company CEO responded guaranteeing accuracy:

Real time analytics for thermal cameras for the last 15 years, we are development partners of AXIS and all our solutions are seriously tested together with all compatible cameras before release. As for the Q2901-e we have proven that as long as the scanning is done at a short distance and on a stable ambience ( indoor) we can guarantee a +/-0,3°C accuracy.

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"Seriously tested." Well, I feel better. It's much better than regular testing or frivolous testing. It's SERIOUS TESTING!

Reminds me of a scene from A Few Good Men

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The CEO does not seem to know the difference between an accuracy and a sensitivity. But I believe the real state of things is this: the camera has 60mK sensitivity, and +/- 5C accuracy. Which is close to that what everybody else have

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We are expecting to test this camera with a demo license in the next week or two.

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SMH

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Any information on Siera's body temperature camera? I've been approached by a distributor that sent a video to me. Awkwardly, the product can't be found at Siera's website.

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Looks like Dahua. Some UI colours are a bit different but...

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I read somewhere that The Wynn hotel in Las Vegas was deploying thermal cameras. Outdoors. In Las Vegas. I wonder what the false-positive rate will be in the summertime.

And, on that, even if you were able to detect someone with an elevated temperature (do they need to look at the camera? What if they were bundled up?), then what? Would you need a staff of Tyvek-suited people with handheld temp guns manning the pre-entrances? How would you remotely identify the target suspect and communicate that to the front-line staff in a timely enough manner?

Wouldn't it just be easier/safer/faster to queue people up and temp-gun everyone?

Not an expert in Thermal/IR in any way. Just curious.

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The Wynn is in several news reports talking about doing thermal screening, but I'm not sure who they're going to screen considering the casinos are shut down...

I think all the points you bring up are valid. The logistical changes that need to be made to account for desert heat, variations in clothing, people who are flushed from drinking, etc., will slow down entry to these casinos tremendously.

For what it's worth, a lot of the systems we are seeing are recommending a secondary medical screening after the thermal camera detects elevated temperature. It may be faster than using a thermometer on everyone that enters, but depending on conditions and setup, it could result in a lot of false alerts on the initial screening.

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Well, here's my two cents on that, and I might be wrong...

1. Generally, computer vision is an imprecise science. Regardless of how smart the software or the firmware on a camera may be, we still must be talking about an *estimation*, rather than a *calculation* when it gets to the topic of "measuring" of any physical properties of the object seen by a camera. This applies to ALL computer vision algorithms, this especially applies to the case when we're talking about "measuring" of temperatures, human body temperatures in particular

2. IP cameras are NOT pyrometers, full stop. Yes, they can produce an image that shows levels of infrared radiation emitted by the object in the view. And yes, it does allow to detect anomalies, i.e. to detect the one with higher temperature in the crowd. However, we are talking about differential, not absolute values.

3. In order to get real temperature figures veraciously, the camera must be calibrated on the etalon temperature object. That is to be able to tell that, say, 'a pixel that has 0 brightness means 20C, a pixel with 0.5 brightness means 35C, and so forth. Moreover, such calibration should be performed on a constant basis since the ambient temperature s will affect camera readings. In other words, camera must either have an information about the ambient temperatures from a thermometer, or have an object (black body device) with a constant, etalon temperature in the view. Without that, temperature readings obtained via IR image analysis are unreliable which, actually, can be seen on the snapshots above.

4. To conclude... Can people with body temperature anomalies be detected? Yes. But can an IP thermocamera provide precise reading of actual temperature figures? No in probably 95% of cases. Thus, such software products that render a temperature scale which give an impression it might be possible to distinguish between 36.6C and 37.5C should not be trusted, nor people should be given a very false impression such devices can replace thermometers/pyrometers and be used for actual medical diagnostics.

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Yes, "precision" depends on many factors. Distance/resolution, ambient temperature and its compensation, object emissivity, calibration, etc... But essentially challenges are similar for any camera to provide precise color reading (where spectrum range defined similarly)

A good article on this topic is posted by Flir describing accuracy measurement and error estimation challenges. Infrared Camera Accuracy and Uncertainty in Plain Language | FLIR Systems

Quote from the article:

The conclusion we can draw from these two calibration tests is that both microbolometer and photon‐counting quantum detector cameras can be factory calibrated to provide accuracies of less than 1ºC when looking at 37ºC objects of known emissivity under typical indoor environmental conditions.

They have demonstrated on "Known emissivity" black body object standard deviation less than 0.2ºC and expected accuracy 0.5C (for test setup where measurement of all pixels is taken and averaged).

So while in a lab environment it is possible to achieve high enough precision to distinguish between a healthy person and someone with fewer with good reliability in real-world situations this is quite challenging and final results will highly depend on the quality of installation and camera calibration.
The camera should be installed in a room with a constant temperature and minimal air drafts; all foot traffic should be organized and every person should be passing close enough to the camera; the camera should be calibrated after installation; regular checks of accuracy should be performed; all persons passing the detection zone should be asked to look into the camera and have open faces at the detection zone ensuring enough skin is visible by the camera.
And even with all of these conditions the camera should not be the only line of defense, other security measures should be used including random temperature checks even on those persons that were not flagged by the camera as having fewer.

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Good article. I'm a little confused. I saw on their website, they now have a message. Was this message present initially on this page?

Note: Not actual camera only representative in image

So if the website images, the pdf material, and the news video all show what is undeniably a Hikvision camera, why does this message exists. If you are marketing a product, you display the actual product. That's like when I ordered DDR3 RAM on Amazon, and they sent me DDR4 RAM but with a DDR3 sticker. The phrase is poorly worded as it is, but I've installed enough and seen enough Hikvision cameras, to point them out anywhere. The same goes for many Dahua cameras.

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They have no real product. This is calling "lean marketing", they try to sell something that not really works or just an idea with the help of hype, in a hope that when they will have money they will sort out all issues. It would be OK if they are selling an IoT cat feeder, but live people might suffer in this case.

Their advertising made high expectations and creates a false sense of safety. Such a "company" needs to be stopped as soon as possible, while no one was hurt.

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Was this message present initially on this page?

Kyle, no, it was not. Good find. They added in sometime after we published our post. I've copied it below so others can see:

What is weird is that it's not just the camera displayed, it's the actual camera stream they demonstrated in the KVUE video that clearly shows it is a Hikvision (or as Hikvision likes to call it #itsahikvision).

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You know that you've made it as a tech startup when a taco shop sends you a cease-and-desist.

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I've observed that a lot of fast foot chains camera budget is probably close to 10% of the cost of this system, and we are supposed to believe they have one, and because of that business picks up?

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As I mentioned earlier - I am a happy Taco Deli customer. Their tacos are on average $3-$4 each. It will take a lot of tacos to pay for this system.

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Thank you John!!!

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Are you going to reach out to Vice, Breitbart, Forbes, etc. to let them know?

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I did reach out to all those outlets but no response yet. Will update if they do.

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Thank you.

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IPVM, I have posted a link to this page for some of my LinkedIn connections to read. The article did not seem to have the usual restrictions where I needed to sign in to read it so I am assuming this is ok. This is very important information in a time of crisis and the information presented will have a direct impact on public safety. Therefore this should be available to all. We must all take positive actions to assist others during this crisis, either by outing those with broken ethical compasses or stepping up and giving of ourselves in some way to make the situation easier and more bearable for others.

Thank you for having the courage to present this alarming story.

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This Pandemic has been very helpful in identifying the companies in our industry that have no concern for the lives and safety of the very people they serve.

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In the midst of all the fraudulent claims and companies being exposed, which is wonderful, is there an actual need or demand for this technology today? Are companies or agencies actually seeking a solution that works and want to implement this today? If so - will there still be a demand if an easy self test is released to the public?

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Are companies or agencies actually seeking a solution that works and want to implement this today?

Jerome, thanks for your first comment! Yes, there are a LOT of companies and agencies looking for a standoff fever detection solution. As we said in the post, this is definitely the hottest category in video surveillance today and we are hearing lots of suppliers being sold out and rushing to ramp up more production.

If so - will there still be a demand if an easy self test is released to the public?

Great question, I wonder that myself. Is standoff thermal fever detection going to be the new norm or will it be discarded in a month or a year, etc. when things improve and other options are available.

I think the thinking is that there is so much money being lost right now from closures and shutdowns that even spending $10,000 for a system that is used for 2 months is worth it.

Of course, how well these things actually work is still an important open question.

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John - a week or two has passed since the posts have hit with a lot of great traction and activity - what I am still wondering is in the abundance of interest in the story and in the forum - are there members or others actually interested in purchasing the technology and looking? As an integrator who has an aversion to selling to fear and hype I still have an obligation to meet a few customers who are inquiring about the technology. I am trying to determine if the interest we have seen is a result of news stories touting technology that over sells capabilities or cost of entry. We have been proactively looking at the technology and have found one that seems to be a solid candidate based on their experience in the market and technology behind it that I haven't seen you mention yet - although it was in the Convergint release recently down the list. Embedded Logix is what we have found to be most worthy of a look based on our research and testing. Are you looking at them as well in this crazy mix? For what it is worth we have just a few customers asking for pricing and delivery now but I am interested to get a flavor from the rest of the audience - perhaps a poll is in order for market size? I still feel like it may limit a buyer to only those carrying a flu - not those infected creating a false sense of safety.

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Jerome, good feedback and questions!

are there members or others actually interested in purchasing the technology and looking?

Yes, it's by far the hottest area of the market, lots of people willing to buy full money up front, no questions asked - not just talking about Athena but the category generally.

Embedded Logix is what we have found to be most worthy of a look based on our research and testing. Are you looking at them as well in this crazy mix?

I spoke with their CEO last night and Ethan is planning to do a more detailed call today or tomorrow with them. Their positioning was clear - very high dollar, very high-end offering.

On the other side of the spectrum, check USA's Seek Scan Thermal Temperature System Examined, a new $1,995 option.

The challenge for everyone is that this market has exploded from virtually nothing and we are all trying to figure what is what on the fly.

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This article once agin confirms EXACLY why I am a member of IPVM- an educated consumer is important but a well informed and socially responsible industry is better. Rock on!

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ABSOLUTELY SHAMEFUL AND DESPICABLE!!!

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A little unfair to roll Hikvision into the title suggesting collusion in a US companies deception and lies. a little like the infamous "toilet cam" story....

I would have had a closer look at what Athena were saying - but fortunately our company filtering picked this up when you click on the Athena "Buy Now" link....

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A little unfair to roll Hikvision into the title suggesting collusion in a US companies deception and lies

#17, thanks for the feedback. As you know, in the US, Hikvision is government banned and government-sanctioned so a company secretly using / selling Hikvision products creates a significant risk to potential US buyers, such as the US Air Force.

The title says "Athena Now Uses Hikvision" and was constructed with 'use' as the verb to emphasize that Athena is the one who has taken action with Hikvision, not that Hikvision has courted them or trying to use them to expand sales. The body of the report also makes the same point, copied below for clarity for others:

Hikvision offers a fever screening series, which is sold throughout the world but not by Hikvision USA. Additionally, Hikvision USA is not even marketing thermal fever detection. Nonetheless, Athena could be sourcing these cameras from various parts of the world.

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They still online

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John,
Can you do some testing quickly on the AI companies claiming this? Do you want companies like us to direct them to you for testing?

I do think it is important during these times for someone to fast track testing on these in a non biased way.

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Do you want companies like us to direct them to you for testing?

Yes, we would like to do testing on this. I am doubtful many will do it since the tech is on shaky technical grounds and we are not going to spend ~$10,000 per unit.

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That's sad. If they're confident enough to sell it, why can't they be confident enough to let you test it?

I wonder if you could find any organizations in the Pennsylvania area that have installed a unit already that you could test. I would hope that any end-user that buys something that expensive would test the product themselves also.

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why can't they be confident enough to let you test it?

Because they want to keep selling them. They know exactly what they are doing and they have zero qualms about it. Their lack of ethics is what is very sad.

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Exactly! You are absolutely right! They have no doubt.

John gave them a chance to explain at least something, instead of it they are editing content of their landing page based on WIX sites constructor.

Their gun detection service is not working appropriately, so the hype around coronavirus detection this is their last chance to have at least something.

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We used a third party to build and market the website. We made this change immediately thanks.

Since I saw a Wix screenshot, I thought it was funny that they used a third party to construct a website using a tool that is primarily for DIY. I can understand if a third party built their own CMS and used that to assemble the website that would be hard for an end user to edit. However, proofreading doesn't take that much time, nor does taking images of products you are actually selling.

I don't feel this is any harsher than when John wrote about Avigilon years ago about all their initial marketing mishaps. They seemed to have corrected those, but they didn't need to take down the website to do so.

Their main site is built using Wordpress.

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yes i dont disagree with you which is why i actually like the idea of asking them to do testing to see what they say. it says alot about them if they say yes or no.

Why would you spend 10k? you just saying if they dont offer it up you are not going to buy it? that i understand.

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IPVM buys everything they test direct so it isn't "juiced" by the manufacturer giving them a free test unit.

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On occasion, we will accept a loaner to test. If there is a fever thermal detector manufacturer willing to loan us one for a week, we will definitely test it.

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World...... Shattered........ I now deem all tests you have ever run invalid and will go back to only trusting the SIA, ASIS and my good friends at BNP Media.

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Athena's CEO called me and she gave input. I will be updating the post shortly with their feedback.

Their explanation for the Hikvision camera is that they bought many thermal cameras from different sources such as Amazon, including the one shown in the KVUE story. That one, they say, was unlabelled / white labeled. They still deny it is a Hikvision though they admitted they need to physically check. As we reported, it is a Hikvision. I think the reasonable explanation is that they bought this unlabelled camera and did not know it was a Hikvision (which does happen, another risk for US buyers). Related, Athena's CTO told PCMag today “Hikvision are illegal to sell in [the] USA" which is, of course, untrue. It is illegal to sell Hikvision to the US Federal government, illegal to sell them certain US technology, etc. but it is legal to sell them to non-US government-affiliated buyers such as taco shops, etc.

Also, the CEO was not aware when I pointed out that Charles and I had been communicating with their staff for a few days before the article was published.

They did mention that they are moving fast and I believe this is causing many of these mistakes.

They emphasized that they are a software company and can work with various thermal cameras. However, they were not able to explain or disclose what brand or make of thermal cameras they are including in the $8,900 or $9,900 systems they are selling beyond that they would be NDAA compliant. This is still very important, not just for legal reasons but for performance reasons as very few types of thermal cameras have even the claimed accuracy to attempt to do fever detection.

Related, they took the coronavirus virus detection website down, for now.

Moreover, they also noted that:

50% of the profits go to the victims from COVID. We aren’t doing this for money just to help people.

We do not know Athena Security personally. Maybe they really mean well and if they do, they should slow down a little bit, be more transparent about what they are doing and selling so that they can better ensure that the systems actually work for truly detecting fevers in this crisis.

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Thanks for the update. I am skeptical about their sincerity. I have spoken with various members of their senior staff, including Lisa Falzone (CEO) and I think they knew exactly what they were doing. They were trying to see if there was enough market interest in a solution they thought they could build. So they faked it. Now they're doing damage control with this 50% donated to victims crap. That wasn't mentioned on any of the other stories that I saw, and it wasn't on their website when they had the falsified pictures either. I don't trust anything these guys say.

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Glassdoor can be a good resource for getting a sense of what folks are like as decision makers and managers.

Look at the reviews by employees of Revel Systems, their earlier successful startup. Sort by "Oldest First". More than a few references to faked reviews and toxic management practices.

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Update, they did add:

We specified an NDAA compliant private-labeled supplier in China.

I followed up asking if they can disclose the name of the supplier to help verify that it's not sourced via Dahua or Hikvision.

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So cool story...

I think the reasonable explanation is that they bought this unlabelled camera and did not know it was a Hikvision (which does happen, another risk for US buyers).

Really? So, did they sell to US Army illegal technics or not? I'm a little confused. If so, then it's time to call the FBI, this is a question of national security. If not, they should speak publicly on all resources where it was published and admit that they lied.

Related, Athena's CTO told PCMag today “Hikvision are illegal to sell in [the] USA" which is, of course, untrue. It is illegal to sell Hikvision to the US Federal government, illegal to sell them certain US technology, etc. but it is legal to sell them to non-US government-affiliated buyers such as taco shops, etc.

This is not their full answer... He called you liars and threatened you with a lawyer.

Chris Ciaberra, co-founder and CTO of Athena said, "These guys are just spreading false information and our lawyers will deal with them. We do not sell Hikvision cameras."

What about this? Did you have a conversation with their lawyer or not? What is the result of the conversation?

They did mention that they are moving fast and I believe this is causing many of these mistakes.

Which mistakes? Did it about the unreal specification of service which they advert everywhere, even on TV? Is it?

So, they don't know their equipment provider, they don't know their technical specification, they even don't know physics law... but advert their service everywhere, makes people fools and it was a mistake? Come on ;-)

They emphasized that they are a software company and can work with various thermal cameras.

This is OK, but how you mentioned above:

No AI system, regardless of the AI, can take a fundamentally imprecise thermal feed and accurately use it for fever detection.

Have you changed your mind? If they are just software provider, they should have said so directly and left it up to the customers to choose the equipment themselves. It would be necessary to indicate completely different parameters of the service specification. They not only deceive the laws of physics, attributing to their software the ability to influence the parameters of the physical environment, they also hide the real characteristics and suppliers of equipment.

Related, they took the coronavirus virus detection website down, for now.

They lie to you. They only shut down the landing page. Their main website continues to sell "snake oil"

50% of the profits go to the victims from COVID. We aren’t doing this for money just to help people.

It’s so touching ... To deceive people, then to return to them a part of the loot. Does anyone even believe in this?

Maybe they really mean well and if they do, they should slow down a little bit, be more transparent about what they are doing and selling so that they can better ensure that the systems actually work for truly detecting fevers in this crisis.

No, no, no, and again no. They are arrogant liars who are trying to make money on hype and fear.

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Interesting to note that this unconscionable smear campaign focuses on eclectic and granular details in an attempt to pose unfounded and untrue concerns, we categorically refute any and all accusations referring to them as contrived and competitively driven. -- Athena CEO

Yes, the limits of what computer vision is capable of is such an "eclectic" detail that really gets in the way of selling snake oil during a pandemic.

Can't believe they're falling back on the "we're just a software company" while simultaneously giving accuracy bounds for specific hardware that they can't (won't) identify.

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Did you have a conversation with their lawyer or not?

I had have not had any conversation nor communication with or from any lawyer. I spoke with the CEO for 28 minutes and about 30 seconds was her mentioning suing us. We are not concerned about being sued and I told her that.

As we do for all of our reporting, we are always happy to listen to subjects' feedback, evaluate their claims and update their reporting.

Their CEO told IPVM that our reporting of various faked marketing elements was simply, to quote:

nitpicking of marketing approach

Obviously, we think this is more serious than nitpicking, to say the least.

They sent a long response on various topics, including references to the Buzzfeed News report. I am having Charles review overnight and then we will respond and update accordingly.

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Why thermal imaging cameras designed for security applications are probably not suitable for COVID-19 screening applications - even if their brochures have been updated in the last few weeks to claim they are.

Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Thermal Screening for elevated temperatures » Industrial Monitoring and Control

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Website is still up with "Fever Detection System" link...

3/25/2020 5:24PM

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Hi Thomas,

They had a dedicated site called Corona Virus Detection.com that sold the products and that is the website taken down:

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I don't think so

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It was clearly marketing hype, and they are not alone when it comes to making claims about AI/ML as if that's all it take to make something operationally robust. Particularly egregious given the context and use case. Well done.

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I love in the PC Magazine update the CEO says

we categorically refute any and all accusations referring to them as contrived and competitively driven.

Since when is IPVM competing with Athena?

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I was doing research earlier in the week looking for ways to help our Hawaii healthcare facilities free up manpower/automate screening. I came across the Athena website and contacted them.

Lisa called me back, and basically said "we're getting a lot of inquiries about this, so we're asking that if you want to be a VAR, you purchase a minimum of (5) units and keep another (5) in stock for sale."

I was immediately skeptical about that, as I'm not usually in the business of buying things by the pallet without ever seeing it first. I also called BS on the accuracy, since I already knew that level of accuracy comes with a fat price tag.

I want to believe they were sincere when they said half of their profits will go to COVID19 victims, but my gut told me she was sitting in a boiler room somewhere pumping and dumping...

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It sounds like they were hoping they could sell enough to fund development to actually build it, and hoping they could pull it all off in time.

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That thought definitely crossed my mind. She sent me the VAR agreement and an MNDA. I sat on it for several days while we polled our customers to see if it's something they'd even consider. I saw this article this morning and it reminded me that everything that glitters isn't gold...

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I'm not usually in the business of buying things by the pallet without ever seeing it first

Lol, but it does seem like these thermal detectors are being sold by many by the pallet, no questions asked :)

What else have you found? Anything promising?

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you purchase a minimum of (5) units and keep another (5) in stock for sale."

So, if they sell not less 5 items for one customer, it means their potential "revenue" ~ 50 million dollars ~10 days!

How do you like it, Elon Musk?))) We have a potential unicorn!

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hilarious the hangover GIF

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It looks like the range we want to be in is +/- .4 degrees, as I believe you mentioned in your previous article about fever detection. I found a decent source for that here: Fever Temperatures: Accuracy and Comparison | UW Health | Madison, WI

Information regarding environmental variables when using thermal cameras can be found here: Infrared Camera Accuracy and Uncertainty in Plain Language | FLIR Systems

Looks like this one uses rebranded Hikvision as well: Scylla - World's best gun detection system

All of that being said and understood, here is a decent study on the tech. I haven't vetted them all out yet personally, but they did weed out the obvious snake oil remedies: NCBI - WWW Error Blocked Diagnostic

Basically, it's just confirming what you've already stated. None of the bargain stuff is anywhere near ready for prime time yet, and even the more expensive solutions are simply for informal screening; medical facilities will end up using something purpose built for actual triage.

Fever Detection System | Innotec Solutions | Security Products">Maybe? Fever Detection System | Innotec Solutions | Security Products

Excuse the stream of consciousness-style reply...I've had way too much caffeine today. Working from home is weird.

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I haven't vetted them all out yet personally, but they did weed out the obvious snake oil remedies: NCBI - WWW Error Blocked Diagnostic

btw, that one is from 2010 so at 10 years old, it is hard to apply it today. We saw that one previously but did not put much weight into it because of its age.

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Good point, 10 years may as well be 100 in tech time. Hopefully someone does an updated medical study for reference. For now, it looks like a lot of people are using the FLIR handheld devices for this sort of activity. It works, but it doesn't really automate anything, since it still requires a person standing there.

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John have you seen this one yet link below? This looks like it might be tvt, but I am not sure. One of our factories that does OEM primarily did not have good things to say about this specific product. InVid is hitting up some of my better dealers hard to buy in on temp measurement. This just feels off based on the spec and what I know from my time at FLIR.. In any event keep up the good fight, this was a good reed.

SEC-BODYTEMPCAM1: Body Temperature Detection Network Camera — Invidtech

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That is a 'Panda' SN-T5 camera from PRC manufacturer Sunell. We discussed it in our earlier post on thermal cameras & COVID. This camera is supposed to integrate fever detection with facial recognition and was originally meant for detecting fevers in Chinese schools. Sunell has been touting it amid the pandemic but we noted that it's "unproven and makes a number of dubious claims, including pinpoint (to a fraction of a degree) temperature readings for people at a significant distance".

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Hold on. If they are so sure that their camera is not a Hikvision, that what you have found out is BS, why didn't they just send you one of their "Thermal Cameras" for you to test? That would have been the easiest way for them to prove their case.

Another thing, how is it that these people allegedly sold the Air Force some of these cameras and they are still walking around? we all saw what happened to Aventura for doing the same thing. I don't understand how in this day in age people can still shoot themselves in the foot. SMH....

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Even more... they are using U.S. Air Force logo in the customer section on their main web site.

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Athena Security requested we delete / remove the word 'faked' in the title. We have declined and I want to explain here.

The phrase in the title "Faked Coronavirus Fever Detection" is a correct description of a fact that occurred. They admit that the main image on their website and sales page was faked. That they blame a 3rd party they hired does not eliminate the company's responsibility in reviewing and approving material they used for 2 weeks prior to IPVM questioning this.

The company emphasized that:

If we are fake and our customers will see that in 3-6 months and we will be done. If we aren’t a fake and we have the ability to save people’s lives wouldn’t you rather have that? And have people’s lives saved or do you want to squash a company right now and call them fake that is trying to save people’s lives. What option is better to put out there right now for society from a wholistic approach?

Whether the current system / offering is fake we do not know nor have we claimed. We know that what they had (past tense) demonstrated on their website was faked. Hopefully, for their customers what they are now providing works.

The company also offered:

I am happy to show you a demo if you can take down these articles and not post damaging stuff

This is an odd request. We are happy to do a demo or preferably our own test at any time but certainly not as quid pro quo for removing factually correct reporting.

We plan to do a follow-up post summarizing what has transpired in the past 2 days since publishing this article.

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The "saving lives" claim is a bit overly optimistic, IMO. Yes, preventing spread of infection should have some downstream effect of reducing total casualties, but this is much more removed than something like gunshot detection in terms of having direct impact on lives saved.

Also, why do they phrase their statement "IF we aren't fake..."? They do not even sound very sure of their own ability to deliver on their claims. They are "trying" to save lives, and not even very adamant about their abilities. Sounds very scammy.

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Just to summarize: TODAY they are trying to sell fake service by 9000-10000 USD per item (but not less 5 items for one customer) to POSSIBLE (maybe not) have a working service in 3-6 months?

What did they then plan to sell Michael Gonzalez? Futures with the promise that their service will work in half a year?

They ask you for mercy but I don’t see Chris Ciabarra ask you for forgiveness for calling IPVM a liar and threaten with sue.

They ask you not to squash Athena Security, but I don't see an article or video record from Lisa Falzone on Forbes or other resources where she asks forgiveness for the lie, "contract with U.S.Air Force", "1000 clients", e.t.c.

So, they no say sorry, they continue to show not real service specification on their web site, they wrote lie in their product whitepaper, and they continue trying to sell fake service.

Do they think that all are fools and only they are clever?

This was not a mistake. And since it was not a mistake, then there is no mercy.

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A national distributor left this cut sheet with me today. When I search the part number it leads me to this thread.
SEC-BODYTEMPCAM1: Body Temperature Detection Network Camera — Invidtech

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Another commenter has asked about this - see my response here. This is a camera from PRC manufacturer Sunell, which has made dubious accuracy claims about it.

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I was debating if I should inform my rep or just let it go.....

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Athena gave feedback to TechRepublic dismissing IPVM as 'incumbent industry claims' and noting that you now need to call them for pricing:

IPVM, a video surveillance research firm, recently questioned the marketing claims made by Athena Security in regard to the coronavirus detection cameras. TechRepublic contacted Athena in regard to these claims.

The company stated, "The incumbent industry claims are baseless."

Update: This article was revised on March 27, 2020 at 6:15 pm to reflect comments from IPVM and Athena Security's response. Pricing information was removed from the article because customers must now contact Athena via phone call to make a purchase.

Quite an odd response, even for Athena. Funny that they are implicitly positioning themselves as somehow outside innovators but no attempt to actually repudiate or counter the facts presented.

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They are trying Hikvision's playbook of "deny, deflect, dismiss". We all know how that ends.

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Why no one has tried to contact the US Air Force regarding their cooperation?

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It's most likely an SBIR (small business innovative research) Phase I contract, which consists of, "You have an interesting sounding solution, here's $50K, go get an MOU from a large Air Force stakeholder and propose a Phase II. If awarded, you'll actually implement your solution."

I know this because we have an SBIR Phase I.

Odds are they haven't implemented anything with the AF (yet).

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That is OK. But in this case, everyone with whom you exchange business cards can be recorded as a partner in your business. It seems to me that this should be interpreted as unfair advertising. Is not it?

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I agree completely with you. We say we have an AF contract, which is absolutely true, but we don't tell people the Air Force is using and testing our solution when they are in fact not (yet, hopefully).

Athena states in multiple places (including the TechRepublic article John cited above) that the AF is using their technology, which is most likely more marketing BS.

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I guarantee you that it is a Phase 1 SBIR. That is a far cry from "being used by the US Air Force".

Nothing in the DoD moves that fast for a real implementation, least of all with a seed-stage startup led by founders with no military network and no experience selling to the US military.

On another note, I usually read IPVM for learning, but I find myself reading IPVM purely for quarantine / lockdown entertainment lately. Thanks for this!

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FYI: They continue selling their "product", and price also available in the web site

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Thanks for sharing. The 'corona-virus-detection.com' website is now back online, one change is that they are selling the blackbody for $3,000, not $1,000 as before, excerpt:

Another is that the tagline used to be:

Bring Back Your Customers Fever Detection System for COVID19

Now, it is the more conservatively phrased:

Rapid Screening For Elevated Body Temperature, COVID-19 Symptom

Also, I did not see any testimonials on the site now.

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.

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Nice attempt but no...

We say we have an AF contract, which is absolutely true, but we don't tell people the Air Force is using and testing our solution when they are in fact not (yet, hopefully).

That is not true. I quote:

Customers using Athena's gun detection system include schools, places of worship, and Fortune 500 companies as well as the U.S. Air Force.

and

Athena's camera system is already in use by the US Air Force for detecting people carrying guns, but this new coronavirus-focused alternative is aimed at airports and hospitals.

In both cases, the US Air Force is referred to as customers who already use Athena's product, rather than simply agreeing to collaborate in the future.

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You're confused, I don't work for Athena. We're a different company who also happens to have an AF SBIR contract.

I was agreeing with you that there's a big difference between saying you have a contract and saying you have a particular customer using your product.

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Got it! Thank you for detailed explanation!

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So, the question still opened: why nobody cares that Athena spread unfair advert and fool people by their "contracts" with U.S.Government and U.S.Air Force?

The USA has already become a country where you can fool people and you get away with it?

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I and many others care. I don’t know who at the Air Force to contact but I am pretty confident that given IPVM’s reach, someone has notified someone at the Air Force that can check this.

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Update: Now, Athena is showing a completely different form factor thermal camera plus placing signs to 'look at camera' and 'DO NOT MOVE':

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Update: Athena now has a new website conservatively called "https://www.temperature-detection.com/" and has further raised online prices to $20,000+

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They are now marketing against companies faking claims, emphasizing their expertise and conservative approach, e.g.:

There are many companies jumping into selling temperature detection systems to the state, local governments, hospitals, airports and local businesses, but do they know how to drive one? Anyone can get behind a car and drive it into a wall by accident. The same can happen with a temperature detection system.

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Lisa and the CTO built a 400 employee company before the board kicked them out. They are smart,clearly oppertunistic and have money. They could have easily facked it till they made it in a Covid impulse buy but she screwed up offering fake info to IPVM and then attempted bribery.

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This may belong on another thread but:

I had an Online Sales Chat session yesterday with another "fever detector" device with integrated "Face Recognition"

So, I cut right to the chase: I asked "are you FDA Approved as a medical device?"

the reply: "the xxxxxxxx is not FDA Approved"

I said "OK Thank you" and Continued "then how can you sell this for temperature screening or fever detection - using this as a medical device? I have a client that was interested in the product" (truthfully, they asked me to investigate)

the reply: It is a facial recognition device with temperature scanning capability as well" "it has a temperature accuracy of .5%" assuming 98.6 F that's .493 degrees

I replied "yes but trying to find (identify) positives FDA guidance is very specific..."

the reply: Such cameras cannot be FDA Approved since the temperature scanning capability cannot be 100% accurate"

(eek)

They continued "any temperature scanner that has facial recognition embedded not it cannot be approved by FDA because of its limitation to provide an accurate reading (jeez, this is their product he's saying doesn't work well)

I replied "Client is worried about non compliance with FDA guidelines .. they feel if they use a device that is not intended (cleared ) for medical use they feel they are open to lawsuit... client asked me to investigate"

the reply: "but this is not a medical device. It is a device used for precautionary measures..." (PRECAUTIONARY? define that... )

My reply stunned: "OH, I see... well, thank you" Snipped before sent and turned blue)

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There is a credible rumor going around that Athena has laid off its entire company.

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We will check into this next week.

From a quick LinkedIn search, their VP of Sales and VP of Sales, Education left in the last few months:

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One other notable Athena hire was a former Verkada sales director who abruptly left Verkada last fall:

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