AI-Designed Customised Face Masks: The Sustainable Solution to The Pandemic Years
May 18, 2020, 7:52 am
By Dr. Chaouki Kasmi, Executive Director of the Directed Energy Research Centre at the Technology Innovation Institute
As people across the world have begun returning to the streets as we near the six-month mark of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it has become apparent that striking the right balance between public safety and resuscitating the economy is infinitely more complex than first imagined. We need a solution that allows people to return to public areas, while being protected at all times.
So, what if I told you that a vending machine powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition technologies that dispenses customisable face masks is the answer we are searching for? Let me explain.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) will be crucial, especially face masks, in our adaptation of a new normal. Scientific research from the World Health Organisation has shown that face masks are undeniably effective at protecting our mouths and noses from the thousands of droplets – known as “aerosols” – people produce when they cough and speak, and in so doing spread the invisible viral foe that can live in our biological matter.
“One can only imagine the discomfort felt when required to wear it throughout the day as people return to their old routines.”
While it is true that in the early days of the pandemic not everyone was advised to wear face masks, this was out of a fear that the sudden surge in public demand would leave no supplies left for our frontline healthcare workers. Now that demand is beginning to be met in large part thanks to the technological solutions, such as 3D printing used by Citizen Science to mass produce vital PPE, nearly every jurisdiction across the world is mandating face masks as essential for whenever individuals have to leave their homes.
With scientific experts warning that we should expect to wear face masks until an effective vaccine is produced which, depending on the source, could take up to 18 months, we will have to get used to a new way of everyday life – with a mask on our face. So, it’s time to get comfortable with them, at least for the foreseeable future.
As of now, our options offer as many problems as they solve. To begin, masks require some knowledge and training to get them to fit properly. The majority people find it extremely uncomfortable to wear masks even during the short and essential trips taken throughout the week. One can only imagine the discomfort felt when required to wear it throughout the day as people return to their old routines. We have seen the ubiquitous images of frontliners who have worn disposable masks for 12 to 14-hour shifts, and the visible, physical marks left on their faces. This cannot be the long-term solution.
Furthermore, if not correctly fitted, the outer seals covering the mouth and nose can still allow harmful droplets of the virus to creep in from the sides. Facial hair also poses a big problem, a serious consideration for the Middle East.
“At Citizen Science, we are developing a left-field solution which could literally change the physical appearance of public spaces.”
The current widely available options of single-use, disposable face masks are detrimental in regards to the environment. We have seen discarded blue masks littering the streets and shorelines to the extent that the uninhabited Soko Islands of Hong Kong found over 100 single-use masks washed up on their shores, which experts say floated in from Hong Kong and China after less than 8 weeks of being first used in public.
Tourism and travel must also be considered, especially air travel. Once air travel resumes, passengers and staff alike will need to wear masks for the duration of the flights to ensure their safety.
So, what can we offer as an alternative to single-use masks? At Citizen Science, we are developing a left-field solution which could literally change the physical appearance of public spaces.
At Citizen Science, we are looking to develop an artificial intelligence-powered, vending machine-style customisable, reusable face mask dispenser, should the right partner come onboard to support with the manufacturing and procurement process.
How would it work? A person would stand in front of the vending machine, where an embedded camera will capture an image of their face. Using facial recognition technologies, it will process the contours of the cheeks, jaw, nose, mouth and lips and identify the outline of the area that needs covering. It will compute and aggregate the dimensions and factor in features like facial hair, to produce a customised face mask that would be processed and dispensed within 15 minutes.
To ensure inclusivity, specialised masks will also be created for the those who are in constant contact with people whose hearing is impaired. This would include using a transparent casing to allow visibility of mouth movements and facial expressions. The mask will be delivered sanitized and entirely customised, and can be worn and washed up to 100 times. Long-term considerations are essential.
Important to note is that the software would also have an in-built privacy setting to discard all images taken once the mask has been produced: this is not a deep state spying software, this is an urgent public health solution delivered for our safety.
The potential for these vending machines is endless. They can be stationed at all major public venues: airport bag-drop kiosks, entertainment venues, hospitals, and schools. The list of possibilities goes on.
Since forming in April, Citizen Science has already developed and delivered a new ventilator prototype which is now undergoing the rigours of testing and verification before it can be mass produced. The work we are doing, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in producing and developing a greater number of PPE and vital medical equipment, has been rapid, efficient and is a testament to the UAE’s ever-maturing ability to provide for itself and the wider world, locally-sourced and produced innovative tools needed to fight this invisible viral adversary.