MNS, FFP2, KN95 or even FFP3: Over the course of the corona pandemic, we were all suddenly forced to become mask experts who are familiar with these abbreviations. (Almost) everyone now knows how to wear and use the masks correctly.
But are the currently available masks really the last word? A project by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington says: not at all. The “Mask Innovation Challenge” (MIC), which is based at the HHS research authority Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), has therefore called for the “mask of the future” to be invented in a competition. A total of $400,000 in prize money is available.
The mask of the future
After the start of the MIC in spring 2021, a total of 1,500 proposals and prototypes were submitted. These were first broken down into 40 finalists and 10 winners – by an expert jury led by health researcher Kumiko Lippold, who is the “Challenge Manager” of the project. The aim was to choose a product that is particularly safe and possibly offers even better protection than today’s masks, while at the same time being comfortable to wear. It is best not to notice the mask of the future at all, because it disturbs so little.
Of the ten winners published on the HHS website, four are particularly interesting. Incidentally, the products do not only come from researchers or start-ups, but also from fashion companies. One of them also made it onto the podium.
Top ten mask designs
Protective masks are known to ensure that you can no longer see how your mouth is being moved. What may be unpleasant for hearing people becomes a real problem for the deaf: They can no longer read lips – an important element when using sign language.
Here should the ClearMask from the company of the same name help. She managed to make an FFP2 mask (or the US equivalent N95) transparent. The filter performance is no worse than opaque masks and mass production is already possible. A competing model also won: The CrystalGuard by a Harvard researcher translates the concept to a reusable, surgical-grade mask.
The product by jeans veteran Levi Strauss is very fashionable. The mask called Veil is particularly exciting due to its ease of manufacture. Basic machines from clothing production are sufficient, neither special machines nor special plastics are necessary. Masks of N95 quality should be able to be produced almost anywhere, just like a pair of jeans. The investment costs are low.
the Readimask in turn, is tailored entirely for comfort. It comes without the unloved loops that pull on the ear or cause headaches. Instead, the flexible nano-textile filter is attached to the face with a skin-friendly adhesive.
Let’s hope that the ten winners actually make it to the product stage.