Electronic Face Masks are a Fashionable High-Tech TrendSeptember 26, 2020 by Adrian Gibbons
Engineers are finding ways to innovate face masks with electronics—whether for air filtration, an LED smile, or language translation.
Business and hobbyist makers around the world have pledged their support for face mask requirements brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic—but these are not your traditional N95 masks. These corporations, startups, university students, and hobbyist makers have entered the market with a variety of unique electronic designs, redefining the "new normal" of public mask-wearing.
Here are a few that recently made headlines.
A Mask for Any Occasion
Engineers, in true to form fashion, have pivoted with changing societal trends and time-to-market pressures to bring new designs and consumer goods to market.
Sanitizing and Air Purifying Mask
At IFA 2020 in early September, LG introduced the PuriCare wearable air purifier along with a UV-enabled case for sanitation. The design uses a patented respiratory sensor and dual fans to take in clean filtered air with varying fan speed to allow normal breathing.
LG technology PuriCare wearable air purifier with removable filters. Image used courtesy of LG
Ergonomically designed for a full day's use, the 820 mAh battery can sustain the device for eight hours on low mode at 25℃.
Biometric Monitoring Mask
Another innovation comes from Vita Innovations with its flagship product, VitalMask. The startup formed in April 2020 after winning AI Health Hackathon hosted by Cornell Medicine’s Clinical and Translational Science Center alongside Entrepreneurship at Cornell. The 3D printed mask places sensors around the earlobes, nose, and mouth.
3D printed VitalMask conceptual model with an earpiece. A HEPA filter is in front, along with an electronics compartment at the side of the mask. Image courtesy of Cornell Chronicle
These sensors monitor body temperature, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and respiration for use in hospitals. The team behind the technology won the grand prize of $2,000 at the hackathon and took the third-place $500 prize in the special category sponsored by IBM.
An LED "Talking" Mask
In June, BBC’s Chris Fox interviewed maker Tyler Glaiel about his homemade electronic face mask. Tyler used an Arduino Nano, along with an LED array to produce a light pattern that mimics the motion of the mouth when speaking.
Chris Fox (pictured) says an LED matrix is at the heart of the maker face mask technology produced by Tyler Glaiel. Image used courtesy of BBC
It addresses an issue that is missing in the more advanced medical devices, which is the ability to see when a user is talking.
Language Translation Mask
Donut Robotics recently introduced the C-FACE, a face mask technology that translates Japanese into eight other languages—breaking down barriers in a post-pandemic socially-distanced world.
The electronic wearable connects to any existing mesh mask and connects through a Bluetooth tethered cellular device to translate a users’ spoken word into text on the phone. The C-FACE leverages existing robotics IP to translate Japanese into eight other languages.
In an interview with Reuters, Taisuke Ono, chief executive of Donut Robotics, explains, “We worked hard for years to develop a robot and we have used that technology to create a product that responds to how the coronavirus has reshaped society.”
The C-FACE is fastened on an existing mask, providing translation between Japanese and English via tethered software technology. Image used courtesy of Donut Robotics
Donut Robotics projects that it will ship an initial order of 5,000 C-FACE to consumers in Japan with a strong interest in production for other markets in the near future.
Electronic Face Masks are Here to Stay
Face masks, it seems, are here to stay. In response, many individual engineers and manufacturers are banking on a new market of electronic face wearables—whether it’s for medical monitoring, air filtration, fun maker projects, or language translation.
Have you heard of any interesting electronics projects underway as a response to the pandemic? Share what you've learned in the comments below.