An Evolution: The Spyras Smart Mask Attachment

“From concept to product” and “From idea to reality” are two sayings that don’t seem to play out as easily as they roll off the tongue. But as the product release of the Spyras smart mask attachment approaches, it feels great to look back and see how the product hardware design has evolved from. Equally, we should always look to take a position to reflect and learn on our internal design process to streamlining and making our processes more efficient and therefore effective.

Map of Version 1 to Version 12 of the Spyras smart mask attachment product hardware

When COVID-19 hit the world last year we knew with our technology we could provide people with a simple device that allows them to keep a check on a vital sign that was often overlooked before the pandemic. It even lead to government interest and discussions. A greater understanding around good respiratory health and the ability to catch breathing abnormalities early is a key need for all at this time, especially those more vulnerable with underlying respiratory health conditions.

The Spyras smart mask journey started in March 2020. The idea was to put our breathing sensors into a smart wearable face covering device to measure the user’s breathing patterns. With COVID, the demand for remote patient monitoring tools has increased significantly. This coupled with the increasing use of face coverings, brought an opportunity for a product that had potential in many applications from simply keeping track of your respiratory health, to tracking workouts and calories, to remote patient breathing monitoring for illness.

Imagine breathing performance being combined with a Fitbit or Garmin...

We began trying out all sorts! We printed sensing electrodes onto surgical masks, replaced exhalation valves with a sensing cartridge, tied a small electronics device onto our neoprene masks with an elastic band to test sensors, developed a sensor card insert that slid into a vent structure attached to an N95 mask and made a directional air flow vent for the inside of masks.

After all that exploring and after the original Spyras PCB had been optimised, we got to Version 4 of the smart mask attachment. A circular sensing cartridge that consisted of a Spyras paper breathing sensor, a protective layer of hydrophobic mesh and housing. This cartridge plugged into a small ‘bottle cap’ like electronics module via a mini universal connector. In the summer of 2020, we were able to develop a matrix of different breathing sensor geometric designs for testing in this standardised device. We tested small vs big sensors, with thin vs thick electrodes, close vs far electrodes and numerous different shapes to determine the best configurations.

The wearable device and breathing rate characterisation software were validated in a clinical study at the university of Birmingham hospital against a standard that is used to test hospital ventilators. The results showed that the Spyras smart mask attachment is >99% accurate at measuring breathing rates.

After the trial it was time to refine the hardware and simplify how the user interacted with it.

We investigated a double sided sensing sticker instead of the plugin connection. This sparked the process of designing a new sensor cartridge entirely: The push fit cartridge that clipped onto the module and had a metal contact pad to pad electronic connection. As we improved the fit between the module and cartridge, we moved the sensor contact legs further apart and produced larger circular sensors . Version 8 brought a twist lock mechanism instead of the push fit. It was a simple way for the user to clip on their module to their mask cartridge. By Version 9 we replaced the metal pad to pad connection with a spring loaded pogo pin to pad connection.

Having developed the hardware to include use in the consumer market, we needed to iron out some features and test it with some friends and first beta users. We gave out some FFP2 masks with sensing cartridges attached and a smart module to each individual.

In general our testers loved using the device and were intrigued by the ability to see their breathing pattern live. They also liked how the app could give them more insights into their breathing performance over time as they looked at the data from their bike rides or walks around the shops. However, it was winter 2020 by this point and it became apparent that in cold weather the sensors weren’t performing as well as in the summer months.

When we reached Version 11, we had increased the airflow over the sensor significantly by moving the sensor outside of the mask, adding vents to the module and including a windmill vent feature at the back of the cartridge. The paper sensor was suspended inside the cartridge housing.

Version 12 of the cartridge was about preparing for scale up, the metal pad connection to the sensor legs were replaced with contact rivets. This was a huge milestone for the sensing cartridge hardware. The sensor to electronics connection was much more reliable, the new structure was much stronger and we were now able to assemble lots of cartridges quickly and easily. We have now reached Version 15! In recent developments the cartridge has been altered for injection moulding to meet higher production levels in the future.

The hardware has jumped through many iterations to overcome flaws in testing, to cater for consumer, sports and clinical settings, as well as adapting to the journey we have been on as a company thus far.

So how does the Spyras smart mask attachment work and what can it do?

Steps showing how to attach the smart mask attachment to a mask

The cartridge works with lots of mask types, FFP2 filtering masks, surgical masks, many cloth, sports and neoprene masks. Attach a sensing cartridge to your mask and clip on your smart module. That’s it you’ve made your mask smart!

Get yourself the Spyras app from the App Store, connect your module and see your breathing patterns in real-time, monitor your mask filtering efficiency and the air pollution on your walks and bike rides. Try out some breathing exercises and see your breathing performance over time.

In the future, we will be developing a thinner module and as we pass on the device to the hands of the public, I’m sure it will continue to evolve.

Check out our previous blog posts from Francesco Guagliardo and Omar Muttawa to discover more about the Spyras Mobile App.

You can sign up to get your smart attachment here.

Best wishes Connie from the Spyras Team.

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