Face masks may not be your favorite part of daily life during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they may soon be useful for more than just protecting others and yourself. Northwestern University researchers (including Josiah Hester, creator of the battery-free Game Boy) have developed a “FaceBit” face mask sensor that can track a wide range of health data from inside an N95 mask.
The magnetically attached unit can detect leaks or a poor fit by looking for sudden dips in mask resistance and can measure your heart rate using subtle head movements caused by blood pumping.
These measurements, in turn, can assist the sensor in detecting a variety of other conditions. Data from your heart and breathing could alert you when you’re stressed and need to take a break. While the sensor cannot replace an N95 fittest (which verifies a proper seal), it is capable of assisting you in maintaining that fit over the course of a long day.
You might not even need to charge the sensor. While the prototype contains a battery, the sensor uses breathing force, heat, motion, and the Sun to extend the mask’s lifespan to 11 days. Hester’s ultimate goal is for the mask to be battery-free.
FaceBit will need to go through clinical trials and other testing before it can be used in the real world. However, Hester’s team has already made the project code and hardware available to the public in order for others to build and test it.
While you’re unlikely to buy one for personal use, it could be essential for hospitals looking to keep workers safe and prevent burnout during long shifts.