You may not be thrilled that face masks are a part of everyday life during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they could soon be useful for more than protecting others and yourself. Northwestern University researchers (including battery-free Game Boy creator Josiah Hester) developed a “FaceBit” face mask sensor that can track a wide range of health data from within an N95 mask. The magnetically attached unit can measure your heart rate using the subtle movements of the blood pump head and can detect leaks or an improper fit by looking for sudden drops in mask resistance.
These measurements, in turn, can help the sensor detect a number of other conditions. Heart and respiratory data can tell you when you’re stressed and need a break. And while the sensor isn’t a substitute for an N95 fit test (to verify a proper seal), it’s capable enough to help you maintain that fit throughout a long day.
You may also not need to charge the sensor. Although there is a battery in the prototype, the sensor uses breathing force, heat, movement and the sun to extend the mask’s longevity to 11 days. Hester eventually wants the mask to be battery-free.
FaceBit will need to go through clinical trials and other tests before it will be ready for real-world use. However, Hester’s team has already launched the project code and hardware to the public to help others build and verify it. While you probably won’t buy one of these for personal use, it can be crucial for hospitals eager to keep workers safe and avoid burnout during long shifts.
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