A Swiss team has spent the past two years developing a transparent, breathable material that it hopes will replace traditional face masks.
With the spread of the coronavirus, face masks have become a staple in everyday life as countries attempt to reopen and maintain some sense of normalcy. Some have adopted the masks and tried to integrate them more into daily life, such as with the launch of the “trikini” for summer that includes customized face masks with bathing suits.
However, most people find it difficult to adjust to the new normal they find themselves in, including constantly covering their face. A new type of face mask might make that change a bit easier.
Klaus Schönenberger assisted with the 2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa and saw both the benefits and limitations that medical face masks posed. Most concerning was the lack of facial interaction, which can be crucial with assisting hearing-impaired patients.
“It was touching to see that nurses — covered from head to toe in protective gear — pinned photos of themselves on their chests so that patients could see their faces,” he said in a statement on the project website.
The HelloMask as depicted on the EPFL website.
Schönenberger started to develop the HelloMask with the EssentialTech Center and Empa, a Swiss federal materials-science center. Thierry Pelet, formerly a project manager at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne School of Life Science, approached Schönenberger to help develop the mask.
The aim was to create a mask that was transparent but still filtered at a medical-grade level. Unlike current, similar products that aim to provide transparent face-protection but are bulky and cumbersome, the HelloMask would be similar in design and function to the current green, blue and white medical masks.
“Looking online you can find prototypes of masks that are partly transparent, but they’re just normal masks with some of the fabric replaced by clear plastic,” Pelet said in the written statement. The mask the group developed should function the way medical masks do, with pores in the material that are small enough to allow air to pass through while blocking out viruses and bacteria.
The HelloMask was initially funded by some dozen non-profit organizations, later earning a grant for funding. The masks will initially sell to hospitals and health care professionals, but the plan is to swiftly introduce the masks to the mass market, with aims to launch production as soon as early 2021.