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Interdisciplinary research in biotechnology, IoT and textile engineering can increase effectiveness of masks by an order of magnitude



1) Even in COVID-19 pandemic, some people like construction workers have to work in close proximity. Inadvertently, they may violate the social distancing norms risking their lives and lives of others. Figure 1 shows a scheme whereby each worker has a sensor  and a sensor tracking device in wrist band or in a pendant. The IoT system can be configured to sound alarm/blink the light if the workers move within 6 feet of one another. This technology will ensure that even during working, the workers will maintain social distancing. A variation in the system can help blind people walk the streets in normal manner maintaining social distance. A blind person can wear a pendant which can track another human opposite him/her. If the distance between these 2 people reduces to less than 6 feet then the sensor will beep alerting the blind person to move away. As soon as (s)he moves away, the sensor will stop. Thus the blind person (or person with poor eye-sight) will be able to navigate the world safely during these unusual times. Implementing such IoT systems will increase mask adoption automatically. This is shown in Figure 2.
 2) In past few months, MIT scientist [1] has developed a paper based testing which can detect presence of virus in minutes. If this technology can be adopted for fabric or if the special paper can be embedded in it then masks made from these fabric can detect COVID-19 contamination in a very short time. Upon contamination, the masks will glow with fluorescence warning the wearer. The wearer can then take appropriate action e.g. replace the mask, wash hands and mouth and quarantine himself/herself. 
 3) Yet another manifestation can experiment with weaving nano copper fibres in the fabric. The virus is destroyed within few hours of coming in contact with copper [2] so masks made from these engineered fabric can prevent the spread in its track.




Who will take these actions?

The ideas presented here need some research work and access to good labs. MIT pandemic lab can certainly ask chemical, textile and electrical engineering community to get together and build prototypes. The author will be interested in volunteering and collaborating as well.

What are the projected costs?

1. IoT systems can be developed under $100.00 for entire group. 

1b. The individual sensor based system for blind people should not exceed $15.00

Proposal 2 and 3 need research and development and it is premature to predict their costs. However, the target should be no more than $10.00 if they have to reach masses.


The IoT based mask prototypes can be developed within a month. Afterward, scaling the operation and reducing the cost might take few months.

Remaining ideas will need some time to mature and an exact estimate cannot be given.

About the author(s)

Shailesh Nirgudkar is a software developer by profession, however, he likes to think about social problems and tries to solve them.

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