Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, we are all familiar with facemasks, sometimes called barrier face coverings. Masks of this order worn on the face to protect the wearer and help filter respiratory secretions from the wearer to prevent disease transmission. All around the world, public health organizations encourage citizens to wear masks in public spaces to reduce the spread of respiratory diseases such as COVID-19.
According to challenge.gov, there are barriers that reduce overall mask usage, including contact dermatitis, physical discomfort, fogging of eyeglasses, and difficulty communicating. The organization also says many masks currently available promise unconfirmed protective capabilities without scientific evidence to support the claims. The agency says there is a need to develop better designs, materials, and technologies that are more acceptable to wearers and have quantified performance measurements.
To address the issues and accelerate the development of new masks, BARDA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have partnered on the Mask Innovation Challenge: Building Tomorrow’s Mask. The challenge aims to improve the comfort, utility, and protective capabilities of masks worn during day-to-day activities by the general public when physical distancing is not possible.
The competition supports the development of mask designs meeting defined performance standards and overcoming barriers to use. The challenge wants to develop innovative and effective designs for a mass-producible and low-cost per use devices to be worn by the general public. The challenge is seeking designs that can be put on and worn without extensive fitting procedures or complicated interactions.
The challenge runs for at least six months and will be divided into two phases, followed by a possible third phase. All respondents are eligible for Phase 1. Participants can also be involved with Phase 2 without having participated in phase 1. Phase 1 involves submitting concepts for redesigned masks with up to 40 regional winners across four regions announced. Phase 2 is a proof-of-concept, where participants have to submit solutions in response to a scenario, with finalists invited to submit prototypes for testing.