Wide-spread testing for the novel coronavirus has been one of the largest issues facing countries around the globe throughout this pandemic.
Temperature checks have only shown to be moderately effective at detecting COVID19, and swab tests require more time, money, and people to complete. Not only is it possible that an infected person may have already spread the virus to many people by the time their result is ready, but in many cases, there have been both false positive and false negative tests.
Smart COVID19 Masks
Since 2014, Collins’ research has focused on developing technologies that can test and detect infectious diseases in real-time. This technology is in the form of a face mask that will light up when the person wearing it is infected with the virus it is designed to detect. (1, 2, 3)
By 2016, he and his team at MIT had created a sensor that could detect the Ebola Virus. Since then, they have been redesigning that technology for a number of viruses, including (1, 2, 3):
- The Zika virus
- West Nile
- Hepatitis C
Now, the team has switched focus to the virus that currently has a firm grip on the entire world, COVID19. (1, 2, 3)
How Smart Masks Work
The COVID19 masks have a technology either embedded in or attached to them that emits a fluorescent signal when it comes into contact with droplets that contain the coronavirus. These can be from the mask wearer’s breath, coughing, or a sneeze. (1, 2, 3)
It does this using a small, freeze-dried sensor that can be embedded in a mask or added to a home-made mask. In one to three hours of coming in contact with the virus, the mask will light up. (1)
“We initially did this on paper to create inexpensive paper-based diagnostics,” Collins said in an interview with Business Insider. “We’ve shown it can work on plastic, quartz, as well as cloth.” (2)
Before you start imagining mass chaos on the subway after yours or another rider’s mask suddenly starts to glow, listen to this: The light from the mask is not actually able to be seen by the human eye. (1)
The light is detected using something called a fluorometer, which is a tool that can tell you whether or not your mask is glowing. The bonus? Fluorometers are inexpensive – only about a dollar apiece – so it will be easy for people to have them to use in their homes and businesses.
The sensors are highly sensitive, so they can detect the virus from even the smallest amount and size of droplets. Sensors can remain at room temperature for several months with no issues, so there is no complicated storage equipment required. (1)
Benefits to Smart Masks
Smart masks allow for people to have real-time testing for the coronavirus right in their homes and businesses. They allow everyone to test themselves daily – no more waiting for symptoms to appear or several days for results to come in. This will help us better control the virus and ensure that infected people spread the disease less and get the help they need sooner. (1, 2, 3)
Smart masks will also allow for better virus detection in places that are hotspots for passing COVID19 to other people, primarily airports, in planes, and on other forms of public transit. They could also be used to prevent infected people from entering public spaces such as grocery stores, movie theatres, salons, and other public venues. (1, 2, 3)
“As we open up our transit system, you could envision it being used in airports as we go through security, as we wait to get on a plane,” Collins told Business Insider. “You or I could use it on the way to and from work. Hospitals could use it for patients as they come in or wait in the waiting room as a pre-screen of who’s infected.” (2)
The technology has already been validated for several other diseases, so it simply needs to be done so for the coronavirus, and then these masks could be ready to use within just a few weeks. (1, 2, 3)
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