Throughout the news headlines, we are hearing more and more about the current PPE (personal protective equipment) shortage. This is gravely affecting healthcare facilities worldwide, and unfortunately, this shortage doesn’t seem to be slowing down. To get involved in a way that could mean huge things for not only local communities but worldwide, Digi-Key wanted to put out a challenge. We’ve recently seen success from the University of Minnesota whose innovative ventilator was officially approved by the FDA, so let’s use that same innovative approach to solving the face mask shortage.
Face masks are the new reality for mitigating the transmission of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and will likely be a new normal for the foreseeable future. Wearing face masks also help bring about a sense of calm as the economy regains its footing and people return to work. In ways, face masks are a new blank canvas for wearable technologies, and we will see new products in the market combining respiratory safety with high tech applications never seen before.
Innovation flourishes during emergencies as demand for certain items rise and we have already seen this during the COVID-19 lockdowns. People staying at home have more time to engage in creative design activities. We have already been seeing this with face masks. People with sewing machines are making cloth face masks, some are modifying existing mask form factors to better adapt to daily life, and some are beginning to integrate rudimentary electronic functionalities into face masks. The possibilities are endless, and creativity abounds.
There are many tools and technologies to leverage. For those focused on form factor and functionalities, Arduino and Raspberry Pi can be leveraged to accelerate the design and prototyping processes. Designers can implement wireless connectivity modules, security devices, power management solutions, machine learning, Internet of Things integration, and many more to envision the next generation of face masks.
Here are some examples* of what individual creators have posted online:
*Please note, these designs demonstrate ingenuity and creative problem-solving skills, however Digi-Key cannot confirm the testing or approval of any of these designs. Please do your research prior to implementing a design into your daily safety routine.
As time goes on, we expect to see more of these examples go from prototype to actual products on the market. Digi-Key is here to help as well with our Design Services program and ties to many engineering design firms with lots of experience in everything from electronic to mechanical design and even low volume manufacturing.
Digi-Key is challenging student innovators to envision the next generation face mask. The idea is simple:
(1) Sketch a face mask concept on a piece of paper
(2) Include a paragraph or two of description of how it works
(3) Submit via this Digi-Key landing page: https://www.digikey.com/en/resources/operation-innovation
(4) Selected entries will be featured on social media
(5) Face mask ideas that become hardware prototypes will be entered in a design competition to be launched at a later date
As engineering students, this is a huge opportunity to deploy the knowledge picked up in classrooms and laboratories. With most of the population in a mandatory lockdown, let’s use this time wisely. We hope to see students take advantage of this opportunity to flex their imaginations and come up with truly game changing designs in a brand-new market. If things work out, perhaps you can become the inventor of the next big thing in face masks!