Of all the negatives brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps the most understated is its impact on human communication. Even in cases where some establish close contact amid quarantine measures, mandates to wear face masks manage to hamper people’s ability to express themselves.
As a workaround for the issue, Ford is patenting a clear mask that certifies to N95 standards, filtering at least 95% of airborne particles without sacrificing visibility of the wearer’s face. The automaker said the invention, which has patent-pending approval, is aimed at improving interactions and assisting people with hearing impairments and are dependent on lip reading.
“One of the things that’s missing during the pandemic is the power of a smile,” says Jim Baumbick, Ford vice president, enterprise product line management, and leader of Ford’s Project Apollo personal protective equipment manufacturing effort, which launched in 2020.
Ford’s transparent, low-cost, reusable face masks are still being tested, and are expected to become available sometime in spring.
The clear N95 respirator expands the patent landscape for face masks informed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ford’s invention can also help alleviate the shortage of medical grade masks for people in the U.S., especially healthcare workers.
Higher supply of N95 masks could normalize their mid-pandemic prices, which have shot up from $1 or less apiece to up to $5 each. It would also counter the prevalence of counterfeit N95 masks, which expose users to higher risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19.