As the world, and especially the United States, enters the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, it is becoming more and more apparent that we’ll all be wearing our masks for quite a bit longer. And wearing a mask is just the bare minimum of what we should all be doing to keep things from getting worse. You should also still be social distancing, washing your hands as frequently as possible, and avoiding contact with potentially contaminated surfaces — including smartphones, tablets, and computer keyboards that other people touch. All of those factors were taken into account when developing this face mask, which translates your breath and head movement into computer input.
The purpose of this mask is to give people a way to interact with their electronic devices safely, without having to wear anything they wouldn’t already be wearing. Even when there isn’t a pandemic raging around the globe, it is common in many countries to wear face masks when you’re sick or even to deal with the air pollution that is rampant in some cities. This mask is still capable of providing protection, but also gives wearers the ability to provide computer input with having to make physical contact with a keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen. It’s a gesture input method, with your breath — either inhaling or exhaling — acting as a mouse click and your head movement moving the cursor. Special task-specific gestures are also possible.
The mask contains two sensors: one that detects whether you’re inhaling or exhaling, and one that monitors your head movement. The breath sensor is constructed in the same way as a typical mask valve, with a silicone rubber flap that pushes out when you exhale or pulls in when you exhale. A simple photo reflector measures the approximate position of the valve flap. Head movement is tracked by an off-the-shelf IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) from Adafruit with nine degrees of freedom. Those sensors are monitored by an M5Stick-C development board, which is based on an Espressif ESP32 module. Sensor readings are sent to a computer which interprets the data and converts it into gestures. Frankly, we’re doubtful that a wearable device like this will gain traction, considering how difficult it has proven to be to get people just to wear a basic mask. But we applaud the effort to introduce an innovative solution to hands-free computer input.