The Smart Mask: Active Closed-Loop Protection against Airborne Pathogens


Face masks provide effective, easy-to-use, and low-cost protection against airborne pathogens or infectious agents, including SARS-CoV-2. There is a wide variety of face masks available on the market for various applications, but they are all passive in nature, i.e., simply act as air filters for the nasal passage and/or mouth. In this paper, we present a new "active mask" paradigm, in which the wearable device is equipped with smart sensors and actuators to both detect the presence of airborne pathogens in real time and take appropriate action to mitigate the threat. The proposed approach is based on a closed-loop control system that senses airborne particles of different sizes close to the mask and then makes intelligent decisions to reduce their concentrations. This paper presents a specific implementation of this concept in which the on-board controller determines ambient air quality via a commercial particulate matter sensor, and if necessary activates a piezoelectric actuator that generates a mist spray to load these particles, thus causing them to fall to the ground. The proposed system communicates with the user via a smart phone application that provides various alerts, including notification of the need to recharge and/or decontaminate the mask prior to reuse. The application also enables a user to override the on-board control system and manually control the mist generator if necessary. Experimental results from a functional prototype demonstrate significant reduction in airborne particulate counts near the mask when the active protection system is enabled.