Researchers at MIT have developed a sensor system that can provide data on how well a face mask fits to a wearer’s face. The protection offered by a mask is largely dependent on how well it fits the face, but at present most face masks are one-size-fits-all and most wearers are largely unaware if their mask is providing maximal protection. This latest technology is an adhesive polymer frame containing a range of sensors.
The device can be affixed to any surgical mask and will provide information on mask fit, along with a range of other parameters including temperature, humidity, activity, breathing rate and air pressure, allowing the tech to determine if someone is breathing or coughing. The researchers hope that the technology will assist mask wearers in finding a mask that fits them best and help mask manufacturers in creating better masks.
The humble and ubiquitous face mask is a cornerstone of our pandemic response. While these simple cloth coverings are an effective way to reduce viral transmission, we have all likely noticed that many wearers have a less than ideal mask fit. While the notorious ‘let the nose free’ style of mask wearing was more likely to be a feature of a pandemic visit to the supermarket rather than a healthcare facility, even masks that are worn properly may not fit particularly well.
Differences in face shape and a one-size-fits all approach to mask design are the main culprits here. At present, assessing mask fit involves specialized equipment that measures the concentration of air particles inside and outside the mask – this equipment is expensive and not easily accessible. To address this, these researchers have developed an unobtrusive sensor system that can provide sensitive data on mask fit, along with a variety of other interesting parameters.
The data may help people to find a better fitting mask, adjust the fit of their existing mask so that it provides better protection, and such technology may also assist mask manufacturers to develop better masks. The technology consists of a polymer frame with 17 embedded capacitance sensors that provide information on whether the mask is contacting the face. The frame can be reversibly attached to any surgical mask.
So far, the researchers have tested the technology in a group of volunteers and found that standard surgical masks typically fit males better than females, suggesting that there is a need for face masks that better serve female healthcare workers. “We hope to think about ways to design masks and come up with the best fit for individuals,” said Canan Dagdeviren, a researcher involved in the study and previous Medgadget interviewee. “We have different sizes for shoes, and you can even customize your shoes. So why can’t you customize and design your mask, for your own health and for societal benefit?”
Here’s a video with more technical details about the new face mask technology:
Study in Nature Electronics: A conformable sensory face mask for decoding biological and environmental signals