‘FaceBit' face mask sensor sits inside a N95 mask to detect leaks and wearer's health risks

The ongoing pandemic has made face masks nearly mandatory for everyone. Researchers are now trying to offer more health benefits by placing an array of sensors within a standard N95 mask to collect data about the wearer’s health. Although not as accurate as a standard fitness test, the sensors could alert about potential health risks and even alert the wearer about leaks or poor fit.

Face masks that cover the mouth and nose could soon become a lot more useful for the wearer. A new magnetically attached chipset, with an array of sensors, has been developed by researchers at Northwestern University. Interestingly, the research is being aided by Josiah Hester, a tinkerer who developed a Game Boy that doesn’t need batteries.

Nicknamed "FaceBit", the chipset is independent of a facemask and can be placed inside any new N95 mask using magnets that help secure it in place. FaceBit can reportedly ascertain the wearer’s heart rate using the subtle head movements from blood pumping. This data could help the sensor warn about health conditions. Interestingly, as the sensor is so close to the mouth and nose, it can even alert the wearer that they are experiencing stress and indicate they should take a break.

In addition to the health data, the FaceBit sensor can also detect leaks or poor fit of the mask by looking for “sudden dips in mask resistance”. Needless to mention, the FaceBit sensor will have to undergo clinical trials and other real-world tests. However, the researchers behind FaceBit have released the project code and hardware to the public. This should significantly speed up the development and refinement process.

The current iteration of FaceBit has a battery. Researchers have tweaked the chipset to use breathing force, heat, motion, and the sun to prolong battery life. The final iteration of FaceBit might not need a battery at all, relying instead on the aforementioned renewable sources to generate its own power.

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