CES 2021 series – Exit surgical face masks and meet the 2021 fashion for masks: real progress or gadgets?

Published on 19 March 2021 Read 25 min

While the face mask has become the flagship object in the fight against COVID-19, different tribes have emerged: with surgical face masks, FFP2 masks, homemade with flowers, inclusive and transparent, reusable,… Our team at Alcimed covers here 3 innovative and even futuristic masks, presented at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) – virtual, pandemic obliges – of Las Vegas in January 2021. Are they real progress or gadgets?

The surgical face masks are now part of our daily life, on all continents. Worn for hours, for any social interaction, sometimes all day long, surgical masks were quickly pointed out: bothering, suffocating, dramatically limiting the quality of communication – we can’t hear each other, we can’t see facial expressions anymore -, polluting – when we throw it away -, even counterproductive – if we have to handle it when it might be contaminated! Facing these critics, players were not long in seeking solutions to propose masks more adapted to our needs and lifestyles in the long term.

Among the masks presented at CES 2021, some attracted the spotlights. Beware, they are sometimes only prototypes, or high-price masks illustrating their degree of sophistication. Therefore, are they really the masks of tomorrow? We invite you for a small review of these masks like no other!

1. Exit surgical face masks with Razer’s multi-purpose Smart Mask

According to Razer’s CEO, the mask was designed to be “functional, comfortable and useful for interacting with the world, while maintaining a social aesthetic”.

Here’s what it looks like in practice. Of course, the mask offers protection that meets medical requirements, filtering out at least 95% of airborne particles, that’s what it’s all about. This mask, sealed by a silicone seal, has rechargeable active ventilators to regulate the air flow and cool it down for optimized breathing and comfort.

For the social side, the mask is partially transparent, making the mouth visible: one can see smiles and other expressions as well as read lips. And that’s not all! In the darkness, the mask lights up! You can also activate this function for style during the day. The mask also includes a microphone to amplify the voice so that others can hear better someone talking through it.

Razer has even thought of the planet: the mask is made of recyclable, scratch-resistant plastic, as it is intended for recurring use. The fans filter the air thanks to replaceable discs, the mask is rechargeable wirelessly and also offers a UV light disinfection system (in its box). Once fully charged, it can be worn all day long.

Does it look perfect? Too bad it’s only a prototype at this stage… Besides, it looks a bit too sophisticated for everyday use, doesn’t it?

2. Exit surgical face masks with the Active+ connected mask of the start-up AirPop

This player expert in masks has designed a mask with an ergonomic shape that is pleasant to wear, but more than that: connected! A sensor placed in the mask allows to measure in real time the number of inspirations per minute or the quality of the outside air and the nature of the pollutants blocked by the filter. These data are transmitted in real time by bluetooth to a monitoring application, designed to help the user better understand his respiratory health.

The sensor can also accurately indicate when the filter needs to be replaced. The filters would be 99% effective and marked with a unique QR code to prevent counterfeiting. The mask is washable for extended use. However, beware, knowing everything about your breathing will still cost you 150€ per mask, delivered with 4 filters of 40h… With the same budget, you can get disposable masks for a 10 to 11 times longer period of protection… and that’s without counting on washing them which is commonly possible even on disposable masks. A product that is therefore targeting fans!

3. Exit surgical face masks with the xHale Made in France mask from the Franco-British start-up xRapid

This third mask is a kind of compromise of the 2 previous ones, combining safety – level FFP2, comfort and connectivity to learn everything about one’s breathing.

This mask has been designed to be forgotten by the person wearing it. Thanks to 2 ventilators that are activated on inhalation and exhalation, the air inside is renewed to avoid the sensation of heat or mist on the glasses. It would even be possible to practice sport wearing it. In addition, it offers 3 sizes to adapt effectively to everyone’s face.

When connected, the mask can measure air flow, breathing frequency and even body temperature. Beyond comparing you to the average breath recorded in the database, the mobile application offers tips on how to regulate your breathing or how to use the mask to its full potential.

The mask has an autonomy of 8 hours. It is equipped with either washable or disposable filters. The company has just launched the pre-orders and plans to build a manufacturing plant for a mask made in the south-east of France.

After the current pandemic, this mask also promises to protect against pollen or natural and industrial pollution. Extending its lifespan sounds like a good idea, because when it comes to price, it’s also impressive: 99$ the mask and nearly 10$ the filter. And for a few extra dollars, you can customize it or add oxygen or pollution sensors… that’s the price to forget you’re wearing a mask.

Surgical face masks certainly still have a bright future ahead of them, now that billions are available for a few cents. However, at a time when the volume of waste generated is becoming more and more worrisome, alternative solutions need to be developed… and supported!

About the authors
Alice, Consultant and Christelle, Project Manager in Alcimed’s Healthcare team in France

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