Northwestern University researchers design face mask sensor

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(TNS) – A new smart sensor that measures face mask fit may prove useful for workers who need to know their mask is working, according to researchers at Northwestern University.

FaceBit, as it’s called, also measures heart rate and breathing, similar to the Fitbit fitness wearable, but with extra attention to mask fit.

The quarter-sized device fits any mask with an accompanying magnet. It sends information to a smartphone app which displays the results and alerts the wearer to conditions such as a high pulse or a leak in the mask.


The device verifies the fit of the mask by measuring the change in breathing resistance of the wearer, co-developer Josiah Hester noted. Hester is an assistant professor of computer science, computer and electrical engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering.

Healthcare workers now have to undergo tedious 20-minute tests to make sure the mask fits properly. The test involves wearing a face shield, then spraying a sweet or bitter spray on the face and seeing if the worker can smell it. If so, the mask is not tight enough.

The FaceBit likely won’t replace those tests, but could give warnings if a mask becomes dislodged or begins to leak, Hester said.

The device also measures respiration by the force of each breath and heart rate by tiny movements of the head caused by the rush of blood to the neck.

As originally planned, users may include healthcare workers, but also others who need a good mask fit, such as miners and those who clean the environment or work with chemicals. toxic.

But now that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that the public can choose to wear properly fitted N95 and KN95 respirators to get better protection against COVID-19, it may be that the public is more interested in the fit of the mask.

“It definitely moves to where fit will matter the most because omicron is so transmissible,” Hester said. “We know mask fit is a big industry issue, but now it’s much more important to the general population.”

Northwestern engineers have developed a dozen prototype FaceBits over the past year with a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The researchers shared their information in an open-source format online, so other researchers could replicate and expand their work.

Before the device can be mass-produced, clinical studies would be needed to prove its use in the field, which could take some time. At an estimated production cost of $40 to $110 per device, it’s not trivial, but cheaper than a Fitbit.

A small battery powers the device, but FaceBit can extend battery life by harvesting energy from the user’s breath and movement or the sun. The battery lasts approximately 11 days between charges.

the research has been published recently in the ACM Proceedings on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable, and Ubiquitous Technologies. The study found FaceBit’s accuracy to be similar to that of clinical-grade devices.

©2022 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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