AI helps one Las Vegas school to get buses rolling again. It may be the answer for others as future pandemic protection.

Tech Companies Begin Selling AI to Schools as a COVID-19 Safeguard

The pressure millions of parents are feeling about sending their children to school in a pandemic is crushing for the start of the 2020/21 school year.

While thousands of schools nationwide will not be reopening this fall, in Las Vegas, the private K-12 Meadows School plans to use an artificial intelligence-powered thermal screening system to keep students safe as they return to classes.

The story of AI and school openings offered this week, curated from a story on by Katheren Heilweil, breaks down the process being used at the elementary school in Nevada. The system will scan for signs that students have elevated temperatures — an indication they might have COVID-19 — as they enter buildings for their classes. If they’re flagged, the students will be asked to wait separately for about 10 minutes, and then get their temperature taken again. If the result is within a normal range, they’re cleared to start their day. If not, they’ll be sent home.

“Things are strange enough. Kids are going to be coming to school with masks. They’re going to be meeting friends with masks,” Jeremy Gregersen, the head of school at Meadows, told Recode. “They’re going to be meeting their teachers for the first time in person in strange new ways, and what we want is for kids to feel welcome and to normalize their arrival at school as early as possible.”

A company called Remark Holdings, which primarily sells facial recognition systems, has been providing a thermal scanning system — which also takes attendance — to more than 100 schools in China for over a year and is now repurposing its tech to assist semi-public places reopening amid the pandemic.

Remark Holdings is not the only company doing so. A slew of firms, many of which already sold surveillance products, are adjusting their technology to the pandemic.

The companies intend to make returning to classes safer, though many schools have delayed their plans to restart in-person classes, some experts push back on relying on these tools.

“It’s important that, even perhaps before talking about the privacy concerns around some of these technologies, it’s useful and saves time to take a step back and just ask whether it works,” Amelia Vance, the director of education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum, told Recode.

Even More Tools For Schools

Some of that AI is being offered by companies that already have close relationships with schools. Among them is Avigilon, a company owned by Motorola Solutions that sells a wide variety of AI surveillance tools. The company already has relationships with thousands of schools, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, and has now adjusted its video analytics to measure social distancing.