back to article Pandemic? Check. World in peril? Check. CES is on? Check. So of course Bluetooth Smart Masks are now a thing

The world is in the grip of a lethal viral pandemic. The technology industry’s response? “Smart Masks” that connect to your phone, that’s what. The Register has learned of at least three such devices having been announced at this week’s CES virtual consumer-tech fest. One is called the “Maskfone” and offers a built-in …

  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Hmm. Just because you *can*

    Doesn't necessarily mean you should... Somehow, I've managed to live over sixty years without having to know how many times I've breathed; I don't think I'm likely to change that now.

    I scent the faint odour of the oil of the snake...

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Hmm. Just because you *can*

      Of course if it could analyse your breath and/or the air you are breathing that's useful. Warning you when the air quality is bad, detecting disease, etc. That seems more like sci-fi though.

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Hmm. Just because you *can*

      Well my wife was counting my breaths very carefully earlier in the year - although the likelihood of wearing it whilst asleep is admittedly low.

      I am all for the decent filtration, clear masks with anti fog - I'd even shave for one.

      About 1 in 6 people in the UK are hard of hearing - that's a significant number of people who find life even harder than normal with the current requirements for masks.

      1. don't you hate it when you lose your account Silver badge

        Re: Hmm. Just because you *can*

        A very valid point and would make a world of different for many. For me it would be good to see people smile.

    3. JustJasonThings

      Re: Hmm. Just because you *can*

      I have apnea, but when I'm awake

      so i'm building a device that gives me a small haptic feedback when i hold my breath to remind me to breath

      data points such as respritory rate can be valuable for people with such conditions

  2. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "...and on-mask controls for your Bluetooth-equipped smartphone"

    I thought that touching your mask was considered a bad idea.

    Quite apart from which, unless a mask fits to N95 respirator standards (and that includes fitting it to the user when donned) it actually doesn't do very much to stop the spread of the bug, because the exhaled air largely leaks round the edges rather than going through the filter (path of least resistance to flow).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "...and on-mask controls for your Bluetooth-equipped smartphone"

      I'm not a fan of these crappy over clever masks either. But this statement isn't correct:

      "unless a mask fits to N95 respirator standards... it actually doesn't do very much to stop the spread of the bug"

      Surgical masks do work well, and they are not perfect fitting. If they didn't hospitals wouldn't be using them for decades.

      A surgical mask has 3 layers, the inner layer is absorbent, it absorbs the moist virus ridden particles. Even if some air escapes from the edges it still works. Outer layer is water repellent, and a separator membrane keeps them apart. Be sure to wear the blue or green layer on the outside, and press the nose band tight across your nose.

      It's beautifully simple, and its cheap to make in bulk so throw it away regularly and replace with a new one.

      I pay ~25 baht per 50, about 2 US Cents per mask.

      These cloth masks are not as good because they're absorbent only but they too work.

      US has about quarter of a million new cases a day, i.e. it will have about ~2500 deaths per day once the new years peak have died off. Dr Scott Atlas, and Fox News and the Republicans behind him have a lot of deaths to answer for.

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: "...and on-mask controls for your Bluetooth-equipped smartphone"

        Actually, the British Medical Journal disagrees: 'Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said, “There is only very limited evidence of the benefits of wearing face masks by the general public, no evidence that wearing them in crowded places helps at all, and no evidence at all yet related to covid-19.”' [BMJ 2020;369:m1422 doi: 10.1136/bmj.m1422 (Published 7 April 2020)]. So do two US professorial experts.

        N95 masks do help provided they're not worn for too long as they gradually get too contaminated. But we're told not to use N95 masks, only ineffective ones (including randomly devised home made ones or "a scarf").

        I'm entirely in favour of precautions that actually work, but firmly against ineffectual "security theatre".

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Masks work, even cloth ones

          No, you're quoting old articles, there is plenty of evidence they work and work well.

          Masks work, Dr Simon Clark, the Spectator columnist, was simply wrong back in April 2020. Hindsight has shown him to be wrong.

          And you quoting *old* articles and saying "there was limited evidence of the benefits of wearing face masks by the general public" you are both omitting the information that the claim is out of date, and that it was a claim relating to Corona virus. There is plenty of evidence now that masks work.

          Your other link is also from April last year. Again out of date, again misleading.

          Masks work.

          https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02801-8

          "Face masks: what the data say.....The science supports that face coverings are saving lives during the coronavirus pandemic, and yet the debate trundles on. How much evidence is enough? "

          "When her Danish colleagues first suggested distributing protective cloth face masks to people in Guinea-Bissau to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Christine Benn wasn’t so sure."

          “I said, ‘Yeah, that might be good, but there’s LIMITED DATA on whether face masks are actually effective,’” says Benn, a global-health researcher at the University of Southern Denmark in Copenhagen, who for decades has co-led public-health campaigns in the West African country, one of the world’s poorest."

          "That was in March. But by July, Benn and her team had worked out how to possibly provide some needed data on masks, and hopefully help people in Guinea-Bissau. "

          1. jmch Silver badge

            Re: Masks work, even cloth ones

            It's not simply a question of 'works' or 'doesn't work'.

            - N95 or surgical masks, worn properly, work pretty well (not 100% but pretty high)

            - surgical mask that is reused multiple times, not so good

            - surgical mask that people keep touching, not so good

            - cloth mask (typically without any specification as to size of 'holes', number of layers, fit etc), pretty rubbish.

            - simply standing 2m apart without mask, probably as good as any mask unless sneezing / coughing is involved.

            One thing is that these things work on a scale of effectiveness, much of which is dependent on the wearer and the conditions, not on the mask itself.Another thing, the prevalence of Covid viruses in real terms is actually pretty low, meaning any study on the covid-related effects of mask wearing has to cover thousands of people over a significant period (at least 2 weeks with multiple hours spent out and about each day), BUT it's impossible for anyone doing the study to keep tabs of all the subjects all the time to verify actual mask usage.

            Combine the above 2 facts makes it difficult for any such studies to be truly accurate.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              They work

              "Combine the above 2 facts makes it difficult for any such studies to be truly accurate."

              Oh bullshit, we have ACTUAL measured OBSERVED data, HINDSIGHT KNOWLEDGE of how mask use worked in the real world. This is not some intellectual twaddle where you make up reasons they might not work. They did work.

              Even if a mask was only 40% effective, that's 4 out of 10 possible infection times reduced compared to not wearing a mask at all. Do you think Asian's don't wear the masks more than once, and never touch their faces? Or wear only N95? No. Yet the masks worked for them, even then.

              I have yet to see anyone wear an N95/KN95 here in Thailand. We have an outbreak here, 250 cases yesterday, 150 today. Mask use is compulsory because they work.

              You don't need a *perfect* mask wearing world, you only need R0 below 1 for the virus to die out.

              Masks work, even cloth ones. Asia is proof of that. New Zealand is proof of that. There have been deep studies on it.

              Example see this:

              https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0237691.g003

              From this paper:

              https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0237691

              See the pattern in that graph? That's how effective and clearcut the OBSERVED DATA is. Masks work.

              All the world hypothesizing reasons why masks might not work WHEN THEY ALREADY DID WORK, and they demonstrably DID WORK, is to deny the reality.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: They work

                Concur.

                For an even more clear demonstration of this fact, OP should look up Tik-Tok / Youtube videos from Bill Nye - "The Science Guy".

                I can't recommend it highly enough.

            2. Jan 0 Silver badge

              Re: Masks work, even cloth ones

              > N95 or surgical masks, worn properly, work pretty well

              Most n(95 masks seem to have an exhaust valve, so they may protect you better, but spread more unfiltered aerosol for others to breathe

              1. JDX Gold badge

                Re: Masks work, even cloth ones

                Anyone who thinks basic coverings don't work might consider the thought experiment: someone is shouting at you or coughs/sneezes in your face. Would you, even without Covid, prefer there was a handkerchief or even a tissue in between you?

                1. veti Silver badge

                  Re: Masks work, even cloth ones

                  Speaking from experience, even the crappiest mask has at least one great virtue: it makes it significantly harder to touch your face, and makes you more conscious when you do it.

                  1. Danny 2 Silver badge

                    Re: Masks work, even cloth ones

                    @Veti

                    I bought hand sanitizer and was disgusted to find it is imbued with patchouli oil. I loathe patchouli oil more than any other odour. It's actually worked out well though because I subconsciously keep my hands as far from my nose as possible, plus it reminds me I still have a sense of smell.

              2. Great Bu

                Re: Masks work, even cloth ones

                (N-95 Masks don't have exhaust valves - not real ones, anyway)

                For masks in general - N95 if properly fitted massively reduces the chances of YOU getting the virus via your nasal and buccal mucous membranes (but not via the eyes - the easiest way to catch it).

                Surgical multi-layer masks have a small effect on inhaled stuff but are primarily designed to cause your breath to vent backwards past your ears in order that your gross breath goobers don't land in your patients' open surgical wound, not really to filter anything.

                Cloth masks are just there to slow down how fast the boogers come out of your face when you breathe, cough or sneeze and so reduce the radius of infection around a carrier - they protect OTHERS from you, not you from them. They do work on a macro scale in that if everyone wears them the rate of infection is reduced but they do not work on an individual level - wearing one does not significantly reduce the chances of you getting the virus if you are exposed to an infectious splatter.

                (How do I know all this ? - I work at Johns Hopkins where all those 'rona data graphs are made...)

                1. Jon 37

                  Re: Masks work, even cloth ones

                  There's a difference between the "medical" N95 masks and "other" N95 masks. The "medical" ones are designed to protect in both directions, so don't have an exhale valve. The "other" N95 masks often have an exhale valve for easier breathing. They're still real, certified, N95 masks, and are tested to protect the wearer to the same standards.

                  If you're working at a hospital, then they probably only use the "medical" N95 masks there, for obvious reasons.

        2. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: "...and on-mask controls for your Bluetooth-equipped smartphone"

          I'm entirely in favour of precautions that actually work, but firmly against ineffectual "security theatre".

          The thing is they don't need to be perfect to work.

          It is undeniable that even a basic cloth mask reduces the number of airborne droplets expelled by a person.

          If we assume (since there is no reason to suspect that they will filter better one way than the other) that they are "just" 50% effective in each direction, and that 50% of people wear them.

          50% of interactions will have 1 mask ( i.e. 0.25 transmission), 25% will have 2 (add another .075), 25% will have none (.25) - so the transmission rate is reduced to 52.5% of where it would be without masks at all.

          That means you just reduced R by a factor of nearly a half (not subtract a half, but divide by two).

          When we're talking about R being between 0.95 and 1.4 that's a massive benefit

  3. macjules Silver badge

    "Smart" Masks

    It is not the masks that are the problem: it is the idiots who either refuse to wear them or wear them in such a way that they are non-protective.

    1. ClockworkOwl Bronze badge

      Re: "Smart" Masks

      I've really seen very little of both refusal or poor wearing whilst in indoor spaces...

      I have seen a lot of "I'm wearing a mask, and so everything I do is now safe" going on, more and more all the time...

      1. HausWolf

        Re: "Smart" Masks

        In the US these maskholes are a pandemic upon themselves. One of the primary reasons we can't get things under control.

        Of course things do start @ the top and we have had no leadership there, with any luck there will be more people interested in protecting others while the vaccine is deployed and the US can get across the finish line.

        1. Gene Cash Silver badge

          Re: "Smart" Masks

          Yes, at least here in Florida (America's Penis) at least half the people aren't wearing masks at all, and of those that do, a third don't cover their nose.

          But then you all already know we're idiots.

          1. First Light Bronze badge

            Re: "Smart" Masks

            Well, you DID elect Gov. DeSantis, surely the worst of the current crop of bad Governors.

            And you will PROBABLY elect Senator Ivanka Trump/Kushner. Ugh.

      2. JDX Gold badge

        Re: "Smart" Masks

        But you see a huge amount of people not covering their noses. Or removing the mask to talk. Or even to cough.

      3. D@v3

        Re: "Smart" Masks

        plenty of people in my dark corner of the UK who think that wearing them with your nose sticking out over the top is correct, especially inside (supermarkets etc.)

  4. Unep Eurobats
    Gimp

    iMask™

    Sir Jony is thought-bombing it right now.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: iMask™

      mine's the one that looks like the Guy Fawkes icon

  5. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Joke

    Why not make a speech to text mask that displays what you are saying?

    I assume the complexity would be the required phone app to allow users to select the font and text colours.

    1. Spanners Silver badge
      Go

      @Version 1.0

      Sounds like an interesting project for anyone with a Raspberry Pi Zero but the power supply could be a problem!

      1. ClockworkOwl Bronze badge
        Terminator

        Re: @Version 1.0

        I'm not wearing a LiPo on my face!!!

        Result of charging incident>

        1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
          Flame

          Re: @Version 1.0

          Don't worry. The batteries will be safely stored in a groinal pack, with a long power cord you can wrap around your neck to keep it securely attached. Helps keep your bits toasty when it's cold out. Not too toasty though.

          1. katrinab Silver badge
            Meh

            Re: @Version 1.0

            A USB power brick of the sort used to charge phones would work?

            Put that in your pocket, and it would be like the headphone cords that people used before Airpods were invented.

            Yes I know there were wireless headphones and earphones before Airpods.

      2. Whiskers

        Re: @Version 1.0

        ... or something else for those obsolete/retired smartphones to do?

    2. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid

      You mean like this one?

      https://www.weforum.org/videos/19505-a-japanese-robotics-startup-has-invented-a-smart-mask-that-translates-into-eight-languages-uplink

      Ok, so it only displays on a paired phone, but combine it with this and we're kind of there:

      https://www.amazon.com/Programmable-Message-Display-Comfortable-Controlled/dp/B08GFKRCYR

      A problem I think with any of these masks is how do you clean them?

  6. JDX Gold badge

    A mask with a bluetooth mic I can see would actually be somewhat handy for a certain niche of users. But it's hardly a hi-tech invention it's just a mic stuck on the inside.

    1. HereIAmJH

      I just want one that makes me sound like James Earl Jones.

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Or Jeremy Irons. Or Morgan Freeman.

        Or, and this is the one I really want - Brian Blessed.

        1. ItWasn'tMe

          Is that the one where the mic gain goes up to 11?

  7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "all without getting in a tangle of devices"

    It'll still tangle with your glasses when you take it off.

  8. Trigun

    Meh. We don't need more (for most people) useless personall electronic tat.

  9. HildyJ Silver badge
    Facepalm

    From 'seems reasonable' to WTF

    The Maskfone seems reasonable, a washable fabric mask with a microphone and earbuds, if you need to use the phone while masked. The others seem designed to separate a fool from his money and probably sell their information as well.

    As far as mask usage; yes you should wear one; no they don't make you immune; and the MAGA, Proud Boys, Qanon, etc resistance to masks is unconscionable.

  10. Danny 2 Silver badge

    I've been wearing a mask in public since the end of February when everyone thought I was weird and paranoid. I started with surgical masks but then made my own. I use linen with a disposable meltblown filter fabric layer in a pouch, and a plastic metal wrap wire to shape it to the face. I've been giving these away to anyone who wants one, not out of altruism but self-interest.

    I am bemused by the terrible knowledge, deployment, understanding, quality and use of masks. I have asthma and chronic bronchitis and have no problem breathing through and talking through a mask so can't see the need for this one or the useless fashion items that Wired Magazine just reviewed uncritically.

    I sympathise with lip-readers feeling isolated but I can't make a functional transparent mask, and we all are isolated just now. Plus I've had to pull five of my front teeth and until I can get dental treatment I'd rather keep my mouth hidden.

    I also use the same fabric to convert Dyson air blowers into air filters.

    We've passed 100,000 covid deaths in the UK, 151 deaths per 100,000, far worse than the US, Mexico, Spain etc. Yet we still don't have a test and trace programme. Our incompetent politicians should be on trial for mass manslaughter, but until that our best personal defence is a mask.

    1. First Light Bronze badge

      I feel for your mouth pain. Sounds awful.

      1. Danny 2 Silver badge

        Ta, First Light. I miss my dentist more than my youth. I've been going to him since I was 17, my longest non-familial relationship. I have terrible teeth but that's on me, the fact I still have any teeth is due to him and the NHS.

        I don't actually feel much pain, he cut my nerves. I had one bad experience involving beaten up by a psycho, a 7 year abscess, and a month long wait to get treated. That was the worst pain I've ever endured. I thought I was being a pussy but a dental nurse said she'd experienced something similar, and it was worse pain than her childbirth.

        Somebody had knocked my front teeth out with a bottle of martini (still can't drink that) and I pushed them back in waiting for the ambulance because I didn't have pockets. One was chipped but took, the other went black. But the socket was infected and released pus into my mouth through a small hole in one tooth. 7 years later my dentist noticed it and filled the hole, but by then my upper jaw was mostly pus and the pressure was suddenly excruciating. Except my dentist was on holiday, and I had a guest who didn't speak English while I had to work. Thank god for whisky.

        Dentist eventually drilled the hole out, left the room and sent his nurse in. I thought, she is absolutely stinking, worst smell ever, I'm going to have to complain. Except it wasn't her, it was the poison from my jaw dripping into my mouth, and the nurse was the one suffering. And the agony ebbed away. My upper jaw was filled with plastic and antibiotics.

  11. KrazyKiller
    Coat

    "What a time to be alive"

    Is it just me or does the strapline remind anybody else Károly Zsolnai-Fehér's Two Minute papers? My fav is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lu56xVlZ40M

    Labcoat as I'm a geek!

  12. ecofeco Silver badge

    Nothing can fix stupid

    No amount of "smart" devices can fix mass stupid.

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