Wearables

'Air curtain' hard hat works like an invisible face mask

'Air curtain' hard hat works like an invisible face mask
The system produces a downward-flowing curtain of sterilized air that keeps airborne viruses from reaching the wearer's face
The system produces a downward-flowing curtain of sterilized air that keeps airborne viruses from reaching the wearer's face
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Michigan Turkey Producers employee Blanca Chaidez puts the Worker Wearable to the test
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Michigan Turkey Producers employee Blanca Chaidez puts the Worker Wearable to the test
Assoc. Prof. Herek Clack helps Michigan Turkey Producers employee Blanca Chaidez don the system for real-world testing
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Assoc. Prof. Herek Clack helps Michigan Turkey Producers employee Blanca Chaidez don the system for real-world testing
The system produces a downward-flowing curtain of sterilized air that keeps airborne viruses from reaching the wearer's face
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The system produces a downward-flowing curtain of sterilized air that keeps airborne viruses from reaching the wearer's face
The "gills" visible at the bottom of the backpack draw air in for plasma treatment
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The "gills" visible at the bottom of the backpack draw air in for plasma treatment
View gallery - 4 images

A new device has been shown to protect wearers from airborne viruses while leaving their face mask-free. It blocks microbes via a curtain of air which has itself been pretreated to kill any viruses present within it.

Known simply as the "Worker Wearable Protection Device," the gadget was created at the University of Michigan by a team led by Assoc. Prof. Herek Clack. It is now being commercialized via his spinoff company, Taza Aya. And while the present model is aimed at people working in settings such as factories, a smaller, sleeker, consumer model is in the works.

The business end of the wearable consists of a row of downward-facing air nozzles housed in a visor which forms an arc around the front/brim of a hard hat.

Hoses run from either end of that arc down to a 10-lb (4.5-kg) backpack which contains the battery, electronics, air handling system, and a nonthermal plasma (aka cold plasma) module. The latter kills airborne viruses via ionized gas which it creates at relatively low temperatures.

The "gills" visible at the bottom of the backpack draw air in for plasma treatment
The "gills" visible at the bottom of the backpack draw air in for plasma treatment

Once the wearable is activated, the nozzles produce a particle-deflecting curtain of downward-flowing air that curves around in front of the user's face. Third-party tests have reportedly shown that even if that air was not sterilized, it would still prevent 99.8% of aerosols (including viruses) from reaching the wearer's face. That figure is said to climb to almost 100% when the plasma pretreatment is factored in.

The technology is currently being trialed at the Michigan Turkey Producers poultry-processing plant, where hundreds of workers are at constant risk of catching respiratory viruses from both one another and from the birds.

Michigan Turkey Producers employee Blanca Chaidez puts the Worker Wearable to the test
Michigan Turkey Producers employee Blanca Chaidez puts the Worker Wearable to the test

While paper masks were previously used at the facility, they made it difficult for workers to hear one another or read one another's lips on the noisy processing floor. The masks also caused workers' safety goggles to fog up, plus they couldn't maintain a facial seal throughout the day, and they had to be taken off when eating or drinking.

So far, the wearable has proven to be a reliable solution to all of those problems.

"We are pleased with the study results as we embark on this journey," said Taza Aya CEO Alberto Elli. "This real-world product and user testing experience will help us successfully launch the Worker Wearable in 2025."

There's more information in the following video.

An invisible, virus-killing mask

Sources: University of Michigan, Taza Aya

View gallery - 4 images
4 comments
4 comments
warmer
This is a very clunky thing that WILL NOT WORK as intended while moving or in a room with a significant breeze. This ONLY protects you from the front. When it reduces the air pressure near your face, the air behind your head get pulled forward. I don't buy this works nearly as well as a mask every will. Pure gimmick. I'll take a mask over a backpack any day. This thing likely takes a good 30-45 seconds to take on an off. That alone will cause it not to be adopted by many business because of speed of use and expense over a mask which takes seconds and costs pennys
Trylon
Seems to me if you're going to have to wear safety goggles anyway, it would be better to add a face shield instead to this device. That would provide eye protection that's more comfortable than goggles – especially if you must already wear prescription eyeglasses – as well as boost the efficiency of this device by confining and directing the air curtain so less airflow is needed. Less airflow means longer battery life. Or at least a transparent visor like on a motorcycle helmet if you really want to be able to eat and drink without removing this, as they claim. A half-face visor would still provide more confinement and less diffusion to the purified air than this wide-open design.
TechGazer
My first thought is that it provides the claimed reduction _in highly controlled circumstances_ that won't apply in real-life usage. I expect it will provide some reduction, but is that reduction worth the expense and inconvenience? Maybe do a proper test in a real-life application (poultry processing plant) with half the workers wearing this and half regular masks, and see how many in each group gets a virus and which form of protection they'd choose?
ljaques
Let's see: new tech, double blowers, ten pounds of batteries. Yeah, it will be super cheap. That's why they said absolutely nothing about the price.
Good luck, WWPD. I saw the same airflow from the rear problem that warmer did, as well.