The scramble for masks across the planet due to the coronavirus has given rise to unprecedented high-tech innovations: in addition to filtering, masks can also become health surveillance tools or translators.
The technology sector and researchers in Asia in particular are competing in their imagination to take advantage of a booming market.
In Japan, start-up Donut Robotics created a mask that helps users respect physical distancing and also serves as a translation tool.
The C-Face mask works by transmitting the words of the wearer by bluetooth to a smartphone application that allows people to talk to each other up to ten meters away.
“Despite the coronavirus, we sometimes have to meet face to face,” the CEO of the start-up Taisuke Ono told AFP.
This lightweight, silicone piece of equipment could be useful for doctors who want to communicate with patients from a safe distance, the company said.
The mask can also translate a conversation from Japanese to other languages like English, Korean and Indonesian.
It is expected to go on sale in February for around 4,000 yen (32 euros). But it must be worn with a classic mask to protect against contamination with Covid-19.
Donut Robotics has raised nearly 100 million yen (800,000 euros) through crowdfunding and believes the public is hungry for innovations that could make it easier for them to weather the pandemic.
“We might be able to fight the virus with technology, with human wisdom,” observes Taisuke Ono.
– Reduce the risk –
Another innovation that could help caregivers protect themselves when treating patients infected with Covid-19 has been developed in Singapore.
It is a mask equipped with sensors that measure body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen level and sends this data to a smartphone by bluetooth.
“Many caregivers are on the front line and are close to patients when they examine them,” explains Loh Xian Jun, one of the scientists behind this innovation.
“This represents a health risk for nurses and we wanted to think of a way to reduce this risk” by allowing a remote examination, he explained to AFP.
Researchers at a Singaporean university in collaboration with a public agency hope to test this mask as soon as possible to be able to market it.
Its inventors also imagine that this model could be given to migrant workers from Singapore, whose accommodation has been the main source of contamination in the city-state in recent months, for remote monitoring of their state of health.
And for those who also want to fight pollution in big cities, the South Korean LG Electronics has designed an air purifying mask.
Futuristic in appearance, this white plastic mask is placed on the mouth, nose and chin and treats the air with two filters on each side of the face and a fan to circulate it.
Filters that adapt to the user’s breathing capacity are modeled on home air purifiers and block most of the harmful particles, according to its designer.
Several thousand copies have already been distributed to healthcare workers and the manufacturer says it hopes to market it soon.