Business & Lobbying

Ford designs clear, reusable respirator mask for hearing impaired

Ford Motor Co. announced on Tuesday that it had designed a clear respirator mask expected to meet the safety standards of an N95 mask to help hearing impaired people read lips while protecting themselves against the coronavirus. 

The design is transparent, low-cost and reusable, allowing for the “full range of human expression” currently blocked by conventional cloth or filtered masks.

It will likely also be a safe option for those wishing to show more expression in their jobs, like teachers or sales people, according to the company.

“One of the things that’s missing during the pandemic is the power of a smile,” Jim Baumbick, Ford vice president of enterprise product line management and leader of the company’s personal protective equipment manufacturing effort, said in a statement. “This clear respirator promises to improve interactions between neighbors, at the store and for those who have hearing impairments.”

Will Brick, design prototype lead at D-Ford, the company’s human-centered design studio, designed the mask. The initial inspiration reportedly came from discussions with doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists. 

“So you could share facial expressions and bring some humanity back to our conversations and encounters with people,” he told The Detroit Free Press. “A simple human thing like a smile has been absent so many months now.”

The patent-pending design is awaiting federal approval to qualify for N95 status from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. 

Ford plans to continue efficacy testing on the respirators but said expected availability is sometime this spring.

Some experts, like former U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden, have advised the public to upgrade from cloth masks to medical-grade masks, including N95 models to reduce the risk of infection. 

A study from the CDC in November found that infectious COVID-19 droplets are about 0.12 microns in diameter, and an N95 mask protects down to 0.1 microns.

Ford also developed an air filtration kit that people could put together at home or in school to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 particle concentrations.

The Michigan-based company said it plans to donate up to 20,000 of the “easy-to-assemble” filtration kits to underserved communities in the next few months.

More than 66 million masks have been distributed by Ford to nonprofit organizations, state and local officials, first responders, schools, community groups and Ford dealerships in all 50 states, according to the statement. The company plans to have 120 million masks donated by mid-2021.

Tags Cloth face mask Coronavirus disease COVID-19 pandemic in the United States Ford Motor Co. Mask N95 N95 respirator respirators

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