Individuals and companies have been making face masks more comfortable, durable, effective, and stylish — more innovative. Here is our top 10 list of mask innovations...
There’s no getting around it — for the foreseeable future, we’ll likely be wearing face masks whenever we go out. Guidelines vary, of course, but many enclosed establishments require face masks to enter, even if your state or country doesn’t strictly require them in public. Along with avoiding crowds and regular hand-washing, face masks are pretty effective at controlling the spread of coronavirus. It’s a mild inconvenience, at worst, for a greater good — and since this is our reality right now, what can we do to make face coverings better?
All over, people have been making masks more comfortable, durable, effective, and stylish. Here are some of the most interesting and innovative mask designs out on the street today.
Buy it or DIY it, face masks with LED displays can certainly be eye-catching. These masks, made with flexible LED matrices, can be programmed to light up in pretty much any pattern you can imagine and are easy to control. One DIY guide, by game designer Tyler Glaiel, offers voice-activated LEDs that can be programmed to move along with your lips behind the mask — you can even smile by making a “pop” sound. The display can be programmed to show messages, or just animate in colorful patterns. It looks cool too.
The Nuo 3D mask project, which was recently fully backed on Indiegogo, tailors a mask to each wearer’s face with a little AI help. The mask is made to fit snugly for both comfort and protection. However, it is also designed to have a replaceable N95 filter that filtrates over 98% of bacteria. Using a smart measurement guide, users will generate their measurements, and then a bespoke mask will be 3D printed and shipped right to your door.
A kitchen accessories company has also thrown its hat in the mask-making ring. GIR has partially shifted its production line to produce reusable silicone masks. Partially perforated, the masks are designed to be comfortable to breathe in, while also using a filter fitted to the mask to filtrate small particles. The company offers multiple colors of these medical-grade silicone masks and has started an initiative to donate bulk orders to frontline workers and vulnerable communities.
Prototypes of masks printed with the wearer’s facial features have turned out a little uncanny, but improvements have allowed the printed picture to be more closely mapped to the person’s face. Merely upload a photo, tweak the digital proof to fix alignment issues, and your face will be printed onto an N95 mask and shipped. The elastic band is also matched to your skin tone. While your phone still won’t recognize you, it’ll make it easier for the people around you. Kind of scary, in a way.
Restaurants have started to reopen seating, but it can still be difficult to eat in public while keeping yourself and others protected. Inventors in Israel decided to address the issue by designing a mask that opens and closes at the squeeze of a lever, or even automatically when a fork is near the mask, and close again once the food is safely in your mouth. Currently a prototype, the company plans to start manufacturing the masks within the next few months. Personally, I think this is a bit ridiculous looking. However, a 50% duty cycle does have a 50% effective rate. Better than nothing.
The Guardian G-Volt Mask is all about safety. This sleek-looking mask has been in development for over five years and happened to hit the market during the coronavirus pandemic. Fitted with a graphene filtration system that is 99% effective against particles over 0.3 micrometers and 80% effective against anything smaller, the Guardian G-Volt is a step above even an N95 in regards to effectiveness. When plugged into a portable charger, a low-level electrical charge passes through the mask and repels any trapped particles. Once you return home, a docking system sterilizes the mask for reuse.
I was just thinking, why can’t I charge another device?
Less high tech but still infinitely useful are masks that allow a clear window for lip-reading, enabling communication for those who may be hard of hearing. The project has been picked up by people in communities worldwide to prevent the pandemic from blocking the view of those with hearing disabilities. This is accomplished by sewing a transparent plastic window into the center of cloth masks — a simple but necessary innovation.
BioPPE says its mission is to imagine, act, and build with foresight, focusing now on solutions that will remain useful beyond the pandemic. Its patent-pending mask design aims to integrate technology and communication into personal protection. A built-in speaker allows for local communication, while the mask can also be used to make and receive calls or sync with any Bluetooth device to listen to music and podcasts. For comfort, the mask features cooling controls for longtime wear and a lightweight, formfitting material with an adjustable strap. And for added safety, an antimicrobial barrier protects your respiratory system on the go.
MIT’s iMASC system, which stands for injection molded autoclavable, scalable, conformable system, seeks to solve the dire need for personal protective equipment (PPE) within healthcare settings. A clear rubber mask that covers the nose and mouth — the fit was based on the 3M 1860 respirator — a standard style of N95 mask. While N95 masks are made entirely of a specialized material that filters out airborne droplets, MIT’s design is made of silicone and includes slots for two disposable discs of N95 material that serve as filters. Utilizing a lot less N95 material while the masks themselves can be sterilized and reused, this development could go a long way in solving the shortage issue.
LG’s newly announced PuriCare Wearable Air Purifier turns the replaceable filters you might buy for their range of home air purifiers into portable protection. Battery-powered fans help the wearer breathe. Also, the mask uses sensors to detect when you’re breathing in and out and adjusts the airflow accordingly. LG hopes to resolve the dual issues of inconsistent quality in homemade masks and the short supply of disposable masks. The product even includes a case to maintain hygiene between uses, complete with UV-LED lights to kill germs. Designed to be lightweight and comfortable, every component of the mask is also reusable and recyclable.