This device attaches magnetically to a face mask to monitor the wearer’s vitals

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Perhaps 2022 will be the year consumer health tracking moves beyond the wrist. We’ve seen the rise of the Oura over the years and a CES that brought with it some Ring fitness trackers. After adding Google vitals and sleep tracking to the Nest Home, Sengled is adding the feature to a smart lightbulb.

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So why not a face mask? Health-related face coverings have long been a fixture in many countries, such as China, and this pandemic is pretty much everywhere in the world. It is difficult to say whether mainstream adoption of masks will beat COVID-19 in the US, but as the pandemic progresses, it is increasingly likely that they will remain a part of daily life for the foreseeable future.

image credit: Northwestern University

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The face is a solid state from which to monitor certain essentials, and the widespread adoption of masks provides a relatively fixed place to collect that data. Accordingly, a team from Northwestern University is pretending facebit – “Fitbit for face” – which attaches via magnet to an N95, surgical or cloth mask. From there, it’s able to monitor respiration and heart rate as well as the time spent in the mask.

“We wanted to design an intelligent face mask for healthcare professionals that doesn’t need to be uncomfortably plugged in in the middle of a shift,” team leader Josiah Hester said in a statement. “We boosted the battery’s energy with energy harvesting from a variety of sources, which means you can wear a mask for a week or two without charging or replacing the battery.”

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The system, which was detailed in a recent paper, can also determine mask fit – a problem for anyone not accustomed to using a mask. If the mask comes loose or hits the spot, the connected app will send an alert to the wearer. Currently, the system’s battery lasts about 11 days on a charge, although the team is envisioning a battery-free version, which is powered by things like thermal and kinetic energy.

The product will undergo further clinical trials before proceeding, although the project has also been offered as an open source product for those interested.

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