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Friday, July 30, 2021

Qatar researchers create multi-sensory ‘smart mask’

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The mask responds to medical demands of efficient digital solutions.

A group of researchers at Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s (HBKU) College of Science and Engineering (CSE) created a multi-sensory “smart mask” that detects vital signs.

The smart masks feature printed, nano-material multi-sensory patches that are capable of detecting and monitoring one’s real-time physical health parameters with precise accuracy.

“The entire idea and research on this technology predates COVID-19. It was fully envisioned and brought into play at HBKU’s College of Science and Engineering and by the brilliant minds in the Sensor Research Group,” said Dr. Amine Bermak, Professor and Associate Dean of CSE, the Sensor Research Group.

The prototype was designed to be worn like today’s commonly used medical face masks amid the pandemic. It is able to measure body temperature, respiration, humidity, inhale and exhale frequency, coughing, and other irregularities in breathing patterns.

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“The innovation behind the masks is the printing of sensors on textile at a low cost and amplifying the originally very low signal on a handheld device,” added Dr. Bermak.

The lightweight device has the capacity to analyse gases contained in its wearer’s breath, representing medically defined biomarkers for a wide range of diseases.

Using the concentration of detected acetone, the device can provide an early indication of an individual’s risk of diabetes, which may help find proactive, preventative health and lifestyle measures for the patient.

Sensors can also reveal influenza-type illnesses or COVID-19, but it remains a work in progress as knowledge about the complexity of the coronavirus continues to develop. The sensory patch is applied to the cloth using a technique comparable to ink-jet printing, with the ability to be easily detached, reused, and possibly connected to smartphones to transfer the acquired data.

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The prototype’s sensor unit is designed to be affordable and disposable, with other wearables in the future currently in the works to become easily washable like any other apparel.

“While at the research level the project is already very advanced, the manufacturing aspects still require some work,” said Dr. Bermak.

The smart mask is now past the initial concept stages and on its way to being registered as a patent. Its proven effectiveness and reliability in detecting vital signs on a mobile phone has triggered the interest of international companies that have sought to partner up with HBKU to commercialise the innovation.

“The eventual cost per device depends on the scale of manufacturing. At this point, it is in principle thinkable to produce such wearables in Qatar, rather than elsewhere. This would ideally be done in collaboration with an existing masks or clothing manufacturer, where we could merely embed our process as an upgrade,” said Dr. Bermak.

Dr. Bermak added that the smart mask represents a “significant step forward” in integrating wearables in people’s everyday lives to improve modern quality of life, even after the pandemic.


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