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How can we make COVID masks more functional?

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Muhammad M Rahman
Muhammad M Rahman Feb 25, 2021
The reality faced with the world is that COVID-19 and its variants will be part of our lives for many more months, possibly even years. The face mask has become an essential item and it appears that it will still be a requirement for a while longer. As the world recovers, many people will be returning to their normal activities but current masks are limiting. Facial expressions and smiling is so important for social interactions, the ability to clearly communicate is also difficult with a muffled voice.

Can we think of ways to make the mask less obstructive? There are some transparent fabrics or plastics that allow people to see your mouth but they would require safe ventilation to stop the mouth from sweating. What about a small microphone and speaker to help amplify your voice? How can we improve the basic but essential COVID mask?
Creative contributions

Adding technology to masks

Muhammad M Rahman
Muhammad M Rahman Mar 02, 2021
Looking ahead to the resumption of normal life will mean than people will again come into close contact with each other so what technologies could be incorporated into a mask?

If I receive a phone call on a packed train, I would like to talk without taking my mask off so perhaps a Bluetooth microphone in the mask could be useful here. If jogging with a mask on where you may use phone voice commands, this might be a useful function as well. What about having a straw/pipe from a water bottle leading directly to the mask so that you don’t have to remove the mask to drink? Anyone who has used the London underground in summer will know how important hydration is here. There could also be a spray pump so if you are uncomfortable, you can spray some water on your mouth keeping you fresh. I imagine that wearing masks would be difficult for those with eczema so perhaps a medicated spray would help.

If you’re on a busy train and you want to communicate without having to scream, you could have a small LCD/LED display on the front where you can type in a message and have that shown like ‘excuse me’ and ‘thank you’. This could even be an emoji. It’s also useful if you’re not a native speaker of the language, as a secondary use. This could even be used in emergencies say if you need to tell people about a medical condition you have if you pass out, the information could be shown at the touch of a button.

Can we optimize masks so as to use even while exercising/playing?

Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Mar 03, 2021
So far, due to the pandemic, gyms and public parks and playgrounds are still closed by and large. Since doctors and WHO have recommended not to use masks while working out and playing, I think one area where we could do better is to design masks that can be used even while doing physical activities. If this could be made possible, then it would pave a way for reopening gyms and parks for running/jogging and other physical activities. The reason that wearing masks is not recommended is that it could hinder our ability to breathe comfortably, restricting the supply of sufficient oxygen into the lungs. Can we address this with any engineering interventions? What could be the design considerations for such masks? One possible feature I can imagine is designing masks with valves that could be regulated, coupled with some controller in phones. Another concern about wearing masks during workout sessions is that sweat can facilitate microbial contamination. What design features could tackle this problem? Maybe we could use fabric that doesn't allow microbial attachment?


Recycle masks by turning them into plants

Juran Apr 09, 2021
A company from Utrecht, Netherlands, called Marie Bee Bloom, designed and manufactured a face mask that can be recycled by burying into the soil and growing flowers. How?

The mask is made of layers of rice paper (rice, water, and natural starches).
In the rice paper, there are also flower seeds that can sprout when buried into the soil and watered.
The ear loops are made of spun wool.
The potato starch was used as glue for certain mask parts.
The price is 3.5 USD.

Although it's a crafty piece of art, it is not recommended as a safer alternative to N95 masks.
If we used better recyclable materials that could potentially trap the CO2 or Nitrogen from the exhaled air, and plant some seeds into it, we could develop a recyclable mask that could not only grow a tree when planted, but also serve as a simple fertilizer. The fertilization could be better by the time the mask is used.

Some data says that we throw 3 000 000 masks every minute, what makes more than 129 000 000 000 masks a month . Imagine that we grow 129 000 000 000 trees every month, instead!


Transparent mask

Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Feb 26, 2021
Since you mentioned, here is an example of a transparent mask.

  1. Face clearly visible. The filter is below the chin
  2. The surface is anti-microbial
  3. Can be used for up to 6 months.
  1. The stiff plastic creates gaps between your skin and the mask, according to some reviews.
  2. Some users mention that they become foggy.

Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni3 months ago
This came up: https://vue-shield.com/?utm_campaign=lookalike&utm_medium=brandawareness&utm_source=adroll

It is a transparent face shield that does not become foggy since there is space between the shield and your face. I am not sure how capable it is to stop the transmission of respiratory droplets and, thereby, the infection. On the plus side, you can wear it during exercise and while talking to others. You have to wear it like you wear your glasses so no additional adjustment is needed.
Muhammad M Rahman
Muhammad M Rahman5 months ago
Precisely, when they become foggy it’s difficult to see facial expressions and the sweatiness is unpleasant. With the filter below the chin you would expect this to happen, the ventilation needs to be closer to the mouth and nose yet not be covering the mouth.

Sheer fabrics masks

Martina Pesce
Martina Pesce Mar 02, 2021
Very good point, non-verbal communication really needs to come back as soon as possible! At this link I found a nice list of sheer (aka see-through) fabrics. It's good to use fashion technologies for multiple aims.
There are some fabrics that are all-synthetic and could indeed create ventilation and sweating problems, but there are also some at least partially natural alternatives that would easily solve the problem.
Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni5 months ago
Hi Martina! Is the fabric sparsely woven? I am wondering how it can be see-through and breathable.

The Best way to make Masks more Functional is to not even Wear them.

Maxim Teleguz
Maxim Teleguz Mar 03, 2021
lets not be like Joe, but instead focus on seeing that smile that he paid for (plastic surgery).

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