To help address the continued need for personal protective equipment (PPE) in the current COVID-19 pandemic, a group of entrepreneurs and PPE specialists have developed a modular full-face mask called Blanc; it is being marketed by their new company that goes by the same name. Xtalks spoke to one of the co-founders of Blanc, Philip Egorov, to learn more about the mask.
Egorov told Xtalks that, “many studies being carried out right now show that one of the major ways that people get infected with COVID or any other virus or bacteria is not by sharing the bacteria [directly] by sneezing or coughing, but by [touching surfaces], holding hands and then rubbing the nose and eyes. This mask does not allow this to happen while wearing it. You put it on for 15 – 30 minutes while you have to be somewhere that is crowded, such as a public place, and then can take it off and switch to your normal self.”
The mask’s effectiveness comes from the fact that it covers the entire face like an enhanced shield, covering the eyes, nose and mouth. And to ensure that the user is breathing clean, filtered air, the mask contains FDA-approved HEPA filters that provide up to 99 percent protection against particles including dust, aerosols and droplets.
The Blanc mask is unique in its design as it has changeable parts that allow users to customize it according to size, fit, filtration and design. The mask also comes in different colors.
The mask is being hailed as a ‘thousand masks in one,’ as it has been designed by product and PPE specialists to filter harmful particles, while allowing for individualization through changeable parts, lending possibilities for unique forms and functions.
“Changeable panels are actually our attempt to attract more people into wearing masks while the pandemic lasts and if we’re not lucky enough, as the second wave of COVID unfolds. Panels are changeable with [respect to] shape, size, texture, picture and material, depending on what you want,” says Egorov.
The mask is customizable in almost every way; he explains, “the front panel is changeable, the filters are changeable and we developed it in such a way that would imply much free space on the inside of the mask, which would allow us, in the future, to add some tech modules.”
Current masks, such as medical or cloth-based masks, are often limited with respect to fit and breathability, with variability in the types of materials that can be used. While N95 respirators are fitted to a user’s face, they require a great deal of adjustment using ear and head loops, which often puts pressure on the scalp, face and ears, leaving painful marks on the face after hours of wear.
In contrast, owing to its modular, movable components, the Blanc mask is capable of adjusting to an individual’s anatomical facial structures and features, offering a superior and comfortable fit. The parts contain magnets that allow for optimal adjustment of the mask to the user’s face.
The basic frame of the mask contains two vertical symmetrical parts which fold together. The user simply fits the mask onto their face with a ‘face wash’ gesture using the palm of the hands. Magnets at the midline of the mask “gently fix it over the face, while retractable tape provides fixation in the parietal zone, at the rear top of the head,” according to Blanc.
“We put a lot of effort into the form factor and into the PPE part of it. So it has to protect; if we can’t guarantee the user’s safety, then it’s not worth it,” says Egorov.
Although Blanc is a full-face mask, it is highly breathable owing to its adjustable design and filtration system. It delivers full coverage protection while providing comfort and breathability. The filters can provide filtration for several days and a built-in visual color scale allows users to be able to tell when filters need to be replaced.
And for those who object to wearing a mask due to concerns that exhaled CO2 could accumulate to dangerous levels — a myth that has been thoroughly debunked — Blanc has you covered. Egorov explains that, “It is breathable — the air goes in in such a way that it prevents any from forming in large quantities inside the mask. That’s one of the cornerstone things that we thought about, which is the ability to breathe.”
Blanc 1.0 and Beyond
Blanc is designed so that technological capabilities, such as Bluetooth and health tracking features, can eventually be integrated into it. So while the Blanc 1.0 prototype will hit markets soon, plans for additional versions with enhanced technological features are in the pipeline.
Egorov told Xtalks that, “We are piloting Blanc 1.0 as a fully analog device, devoid of electronic components. We think of it as a core element in a wider ecosystem. Implementing specific modules, such as Bluetooth, voice modulators and internal climate control, are the preliminary baby steps after we get initial feedback from the market.”
The internal climate control would allow users to regulate the temperature inside the mask so that “it will not be cold in the winter, and not steamy hot in the summer, while [the individual] breathes in cleansed air,” explains Egorov.
Egorov says, “Our go-to-market prototype is fully functional and is an attempt to build an ecosystem that will be of use, which users will embrace and that will have the functions that they really need.”
Blanc could be more than a PPE, a fashion accessory or lifestyle gadget, depending on what the user wants. Blanc could easily be a sportswear, an augmented reality inventory or a smart tech gadget, according to Egorov. The possibilities are varied and quite endless owing to the ease with which different modules can be integrated into the device.
“It [could even be] like a digital hygiene unit or visual data privacy keeper. It’s opaque and covers the whole face so that wearers can decide what they want to share and what they want to keep in terms of their visual data. This is our attempt to regain some control over visual data in a world that is controlled by facial recognition technology,” says Egorov.
However, he is hesitant about labeling Blanc as any one thing at the moment, including a health wearable, as he feels many devices are marketed as such and then fail once they hit the ground.
Egorov said that there were many “techy things” that he and co-founder Maria Lapuk wanted the 1.0 to have, but they decided to do more research and are currently in a technology sourcing process trying to find technologies that will fit the system and really work. They decided to let Blanc 1.0 hit the market as-is, and will await feedback from consumers as to what modules they may be most interested in.
Incorporating new components will be quite easy as the mask’s framework allows for new modules to be installed quickly and easily. It is designed so that users who have bought Blanc 1.0 will be able to purchase new modules and install them themselves, instead of buying another mask. They would simply upgrade the mask with the modules that they need.
Blanc received positive feedback from its Kickstarter campaign and as it wraps up this fall, the first pre-orders for the masks will begin to be fulfilled in October. The first masks will include three different changeable panels and changeable HEPA filters. Consumers will be able to create and order customized Blanc front panels of their own design and texture. The masks are available for pre-order on Blanc’s website.
“We are hoping that in late October we fulfill the first early bird orders because we are at the late prototype stage. We have a fully functional prototype, and several copies of it. Everything has been proven [to be] working, so nothing prevents us from scaling the production lines to mass production.”
As for the future, Egorov says, “I think once the mask starts gaining additional modules, we will understand much better what the public actually wants and what they embrace most and use most, and that’s where the company will be developing. We’re even thinking of doing it like an open-source project, asking [consumers] what the next steps could be; should we do a skydiver version of it or something? And there is no problem with that because it’s designed in such a way that allows it.”