Alabama-designed ‘smart mask’ aims to detect COVID-19, other illness

Alabama-designed 'smart mask' aims to detect COVID-19, other illness

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A new face mask, designed and produced in Alabama, plans to detect COVID-19, and maybe even eliminate the need for a COVID test.

The mask is the brainchild of Rubin Pillay, Ph.D., Chief Innovative Officer at UAB. It has built-in sensors to detect when you might be getting sick.

“The whole idea is to embed sensors into them so they’re able to monitor two vital signs, pulse rate and temperature,” Pillay explained. A fever and increased heart rate are often the first indicators of any infection, not just coronavirus.

“We built it on three founding principals,” Pillay said "One, it has to be functional. So it had to either prevent you from infecting somebody, or prevent somebody from infecting you. So it had to work. Two, it had to be ergonomic. In other words, it had to fit comfortably given that people were going to be using these for prolonged time periods, whether you’re a provider or a kid in the classroom or an employee, or whatever it is. And the third is it has to be aesthetically pleasing. "

The mask works in conjunction with a smartphone app to monitor the temperature and pulse of the person who’s wearing it.

“We would use those two data points to hopefully arrive at what I call as a digital diagnostic test. So when we have sufficient data, can we develop a correlation between pulse rate and temperature and the patient who is positive for COVID? and when we get to that point of sufficient data, it actually alleviates the need to actually have a COVID test,” said Pillay.

Several versions of the masks will be made. They will be available with and without the sensors monitoring pulse and temperature, and another version will include an N-95 material around the edge so that the mask will seal to the face, providing sufficient protection for healthcare workers.

The masks are not available yet as they’re still in the design and production phase.

Pillay is adamant that they are low priced and affordable for more people to have access to them. Once they’re ready, the plan is to first distribute them to school and healthcare systems.

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