A new teched-up product is dominating this year’s Consumer Electronics Show for the same reason it’s all happening online this year.
In Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show last year you would have noticed little concern about the emerging novel coronavirus that would soon lead to a global pandemic – aside from a separate although poorly policed line at the airport for travellers arriving from parts of China, where reports of a strange pneumonia-like disease were just beginning to emerge.
What you definitely weren’t seeing at CES in 2020 was many masks, not on the faces of those attending the convention centres throughout the week or on the product booths people crowded around.
This year is a different story.
The all-digital CES has seen plenty of companies rolling out hi-tech masks, with some going to bizarre lengths to hop on the most on-trend product of the last year.
Here are some of the brands competing for a spot on your face.
Let’s start with perhaps the most ridiculous of the lot.
The Maskfone comes from British-Hong Kong electronics company Binatone – known for being one of the first to market a video game console in the 1970s, indicating it does at least have an eye for trends.
Whether the Maskfone catches on remains to be seen but it’s hoping to woo audiences with an N95-filtered mask that features an in-built Bluetooth headset, allowing you to listen to music, make phone calls and summon digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant.
The company hopes the product can “streamline a new way of life as we all learn to navigate through these uncertain times of this global pandemic and beyond”.
The Maskfone boasts a 12-hour battery life.
The company also plans to introduce the MegaFone mask, which features a detachable voice projector so people can hear you better through the mask
Airpop is a little ahead of the game, having emerged as a “smart air wearable” company in 2015.
The company’s masks and accompanying app gives information on the quality of the air you’re breathing, and is mainly focused on air pollution rather than virus protection.
Airpop claims to use “innovative yarns” and “engineered knitting” to make more breathable textiles.
The masks do have included filters that could help guard against or reduce the spread of coronavirus.
SAMSUNG AIR POCKET
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Samsung has “accelerated” a company called “Air Pocket” which sits inside the tech giant’s Creative Lab.
Air Pocket uses “nanoporous materials” that it claims can store as much as 21 times the amount of oxygen as a conventional bottled oxygen product, and at a lower pressure, making it safer.
The company has patents pending on three different types of “oxygen supply modules”, an outdoor spray, indoor mist and mask with adjustable flow rate.
“Due to various threats such as COVID-19 and pollutants, getting fresh air has become more essential for everyday life. Wearing masks to protect from viruses and pollutants has become a routine,” Samsung said.
The company suggests you can use Air Pocket to improve athletic performance, and even use it for your ageing pets.
In addition to the canisters of oxygen the company has devices that fit onto a mask to directly pipe in oxygen.
LG PURICARE WEARABLE AIR PURIFIER
Not to be outdone by its domestic rival, LG also has a new mask offering being shown off at CES, the PuriCare wearable air purifier.
The PuriCare is claimed to be able to filter out 99 per cent of bacteria and pollen and 99.7 per cent of viruses. (The tests were done using e.coli virus, it’s not clear how well it would perform against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.)
The device is made with “medical grade” silicon and HEPA filters.
You can also buy an additional case that uses ultraviolet light to sterilise the mask as well as charge it.
NEXVOO HEALTH CARE CLEAR MASK
Video-conferencing and telemedicine company Nexvoo have brought along its Smart Fresh Air Transparent Mask, which it claims to be the first transparent N99 smart mask with electric fan and UV-C self-sanitisation to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
The mask has a three-speed brushless fan which can last for around six hours on the battery. Transparent masks are particularly helpful for the deaf community who use lip-reading.
MAXOGEN BREATHE HELPER
If the alternative-lifestyle living “wellness” influencers who were sucked into the rabbit hole QAnon conspiracy over the last year believed in wearing masks they would probably fit them with one of these.
The Maxogen Breathe Helper sticks on the front of your mask and boasts “1 million plus microcapsules” packed with “immune-stimulating essential oils”.
HOLST CENTRE SMART MASKS
The Netherlands-based, innovation focused Holst Centre has been working on designs to make face masks smarter in the hopes of helping “companies to bring out products with seamlessly integrated electronics”.
The centre said some of the potential reasons to integrate smart capabilities in face masks include anti-counterfeiting measures, better communication between wearers, ensuring masks are worn correctly and measuring the temperature and other vitals of the wearer. Humidity detection could also tell you when it’s time to replace your mask.
It’s notable that the company actually advancing arguments for why face masks should have electronics in them is the one that is not marketing a product so much as an idea.