Story at a glance

  • Engineers at Northwestern University have developed a sensor that could help create a “smart” face mask.
  • The device has been dubbed “FaceBit” and was originally designed to help healthcare professionals.
  • The device is currently powered by a small battery but engineers hope that one day it will be able to run solely on “ambient sources.”

There might be such a thing as a “smart” facemask in the future.  

Engineers at Northwestern University recently created a new smart sensor for face masks, essentially turning them into “Fitbit for the face.” 

Research on the device was published last week, along with details on how the quarter-sized sensor uses a tiny magnet to attach to any N95 mask, cloth or surgical face mask. The device can sense user’s real-time respiration rate, heart rate and mask wear time, according to a news release.

Dubbed a “FaceBit,” the sensor can send all this information wirelessly to a smartphone app with a dashboard for real-time health monitoring.  


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The app can be used to alert the mask-wearer of issues like a leak in the mask or an elevated heart rate and its data may be able to predict “fatigue, physical health status and emotional state.”    

FaceBit’s sensor gathers power from a small battery and from a “variety of ambient sources,” the release states, such as the user’s breathing, motion and heat from the sun. Engineers hope this will allow users to use masks for long periods of time without recharging it.  

Engineers also hope to eventually be able to make FaceBit battery free.  

FaceBit was originally designed as a “smart” mask for health care professionals. Engineers first interviewed physicians, nurses and medical assistants about potential needs for a smart face mask.  

Health care workers placed face mask quality and fit as their most important need.  

Health care workers typically undergo a 20-minute long “fit test” to ensure that their N95 mask are adequately sealed to their face, and although FaceBit cannot replace that process, it can alert the wearer when it has become loose or moved.  

“FaceBit provides a first step toward practical on-face sensing and inference and provides a sustainable, convenient, comfortable option for general health monitoring for COVID-19 frontline workers and beyond,” said Assistant Professor of Electrical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science at Northwestern University Josiah Hester, who led the device development.  

“I’m really excited to hand this off to the research community to see what they can do with it.” 


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Published on Jan 12, 2022