A new face mask prototype ups the transparency factor on COVID-19, making infectious particles visible to wearers through their smartphones.
The “Social Mask,” created by Romania-native Burzo Ciprian, is one of the winners of the #Reimagine Masks challenge from MIT Pandemic Response CoLab and MilliporeSigma. The contest asked scientists, designers, researchers, engineers, companies, and individuals to “to develop actionable solutions for challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“A global challenge like the pandemic necessitates global solutions,” says David Kong, director of the MIT Media Lab’s Community Biotechnology Initiative and co-founder of the CoLab platform, on the MIT website, adding that the company hopes to “channel the creativity and innovation of diverse communities all around the world toward addressing the myriad challenges we face arising from the pandemic.”
For his winning concept, Ciprian, an industrial engineer and designer, invented a clear mask with a 3D-printed frame that incorporates biosensors and air vents. Their data can then be linked via Bluetooth to mobile technology.
“Connecting the mask with our smartphone is a real option for the future,” he says. “We should know who is infected in our area and get informed on our smartphone about what the biosensor has detected based on surrounding particles. These are just a few of the options that will surely feature in the mask of the future.”
The cheek thermometer on the Social Mask provides real-time readouts for all to see, allowing others to steer clear if the wearer has a fever. The biosensors can also monitor the presence of germs and other pollutants in the air. All the data is then sent to the user’s smartphone, sending alerts if hazardous airborne pathogens are indeed detected.
If the masks were to gain widespread use, the app could generate maps of the air in surrounding areas within a quarter-mile radius. Based on wearer temperatures and particle collection, the app will utilize an algorithm to calculate the percentage of possible COVID-19 infections, pinning them on the maps. Even the infections of asymptomatic people could be “seen” with a smartphone.
For easy and effective cleaning, the mask front is a modular device (containing the sensor, Bluetooth, and filtered ventilation) that can be removed and sanitized.
To reduce the stigma of masks, Ciprian employed a “modern, minimalist design using various color palettes” for his smart face covering. “They look nice, futuristic, and smart,” he adds. And for those with allergies or skin sensitivities, the mask can be also manufactured in various materials like polycarbonate and polypropylene. Ciprian estimates a cost of $30 to produce each Social Mask, and he’s even offering to do the app development for free. In this way, he hopes the app will also be free for all users.
The MIT/MillliporeSigma challenge awarded two other winners as well. The first, contributed by Katelynn Salmon and Moses Zeidan, is a design for low-cost medical-grade gowns, constructed of PET polyester, sourced from single-use plastic waste in African landfills. The second, submitted by Monica Berger, is a fashionable, exercise-friendly face-mask scarf, made from sustainable fabric, that integrates biosensors and a removable charcoal filter.
“Maintaining today’s mask and PPE functionalities while increasing their wearability and creative sourcing is the most scientifically sound method to prevent viral transmission and increase adoption,” said MilliporeSigma judge Beattie. “We look forward to helping move the finalists’ ideas forward to potentially become the next pandemic response solutions.”