As we near the final hurdles of bringing the smart facemask attachment to market, we felt it was only right to give the website a refitting and to also include this blog page. We hope to give more updates and insights into our work through this medium and for you to also comment and feedback through the comment section at the end.
For this post though, let's take a look back on the past year.
Where did it start?
After moving into our very cold and modest first office back in March 2020 (not the greatest timing) and making up the IKEA desks, the COVID situation was starting to escalate. The announcement on mandatory facemasks was a rumour and with the team sat around one evening, the suggestion about using our sensing technology to monitor breathing pattern in facemasks was made.
The curiosity stage then set in about the possibility to turn a static feedback-less device such as the facemask into a smart one that could track and monitor the wearer's respiratory health because after all, that's the reason to wear one right?
We hopped onto the screen print to create a fresh batch of paper sensors on our trusty eBay print table (that's a whole blog post in itself) and did a fresh print of paper sensors. After salvaging some old Bluetooth electronics, we connected up the concept to try.
The result was that in one evening the team were able to connect up the mobile app we had and spare electronics to show a very simple to believable proof of concept for the application.
"It's not the question of whether we can do it but should we?"
Yes, that was indeed a take on the Jurassic Park quote from Jeff Goldblum.
In the next week or so we saw that facemasks and coverings were starting to creep from rumors into policy maker scripts and from the 14th July 2020 here in the UK, it was made mandatory. We had expected facemasks to have been worn in the west due to the pandemic and especially when we saw that China had ramped up production of 10Bn PPE masks and the effect it had on controlling infection rates.
We had no intention to enter the facemask market but seeing the behaviour change of people made on a mass scale and that of the Eastern countries that had long worn masks prior to the pandemic, we felt there could be an opportunity to explore creating a smart attachment for any type of mask to track the wearers breathing.
Spyras was chosen from over 8000 applications to Innovate UK for a grant to research the idea as apart of the 'Business-led innovation in response to global disruption' call. We received the news that we were successful and a three month concept to physical product began.
During this time in July, Spyras grew into next doors office to accommodate more space. We went from 209 sqft of premium London office space to a roomy 285 sqft. We obtained better desks from premium marketplace GumTree and then wheeled the 200kg screen print machine down the hallway. We even refurbished it during the first lock down to get the vacuum print bed up and running. The space enabled more dedicated technical areas to be created for the three month project to develop the concept into the first prototype smart facemask.
How do we approach this?
There was three key areas that needed to be addressed:
Software - we needed to retailor our mobile app for the application for facemaks.
Custom electronics - small, lightweight and long battery life.
Product design - how do we fit these sensors in? How do we connect the electronics to the mask? How do we get the sensors to be made at scale?
Over the next few weeks we will share our development stories, progress and hard-earned lessons. If you would like to focus on a specific area then, of course, comment below and we will continue to add.
You didn't think we would just share it in one post now did you?
Go sign up for the facemask here.