Global air quality affects us all, but clearly people living in some areas have it much worse than most. Health Tech potentially meets air quality on two fronts: personal protection for individuals and air quality monitoring for the population at large. The international design firm Frog Design, Inc.’s Shanghai studio is developing a concept for a virtual reality (VR) mask called AirWave that goes even further. In addition to individual air filtering and data reporting, the AirWave mask incorporates virtual reality functionality so if you don’t like the atmosphere you’re in, you can create a new one. To be clear, the AirWave virtual reality mask is only a concept at this point; you can’t order one, as appealing as it may look or sound.
But here’s the deal behind AirWave. The Frog Design Shanghai studio is motivated by location. In a 2015 CNN report on air quality in China, only eight cities met the 2014 quality standard, and Shanghai wasn’t one of them. It’s also apparent that if cities and countries in the world are going to be motivated to actual, attained results in fighting air pollution, beyond political posturing, collected data must be valid, reliable, and relatable. Air particle measurement is much more relatable when gathered at street level where people are actually walking around, not from building tops where conventional measurements are often taken.
So the first purpose of the AirWave mask is to filter particle and pollutants for the wearer. The second function is to measure particles and other components in the air while people are on the street and when they are inside; it then wirelessly reports that data to cloud-based collection points. Frog states that this “crowdsourced network acts as a counterpoint to government readings, is continuously updated, and can be viewed at the macro level or drilled down to one’s own neighborhood.”
The virtual reality feature in the concept is a choice (there’s also a design alternative that filters and reports, without the VR, and looks a lot more like a conventional mask). If the wearer of the AirWave VR version chooses, the smells, sounds, and air quality experience can be altered to the wearer’s preferences and adjusted based on the mask’s facial expression sensing. Frog refers to the VR function as “re-skinning” your environment.
Keep in mind the AirWave mask, with or without virtual reality, is a concept that you can not buy today and that may never be developed. The folks at Frog are talented designers, but we don’t know if they can actually build such a thing. The AirWave does however point to a problem for which wearable Health Tech could potentially be a viable solution for individuals and in its big data gathering process perhaps be a political force for change. The virtual reality piece is a little more far-flung. None of the big VR development companies are talking about creating odors and the ability to alter experience in real-time by sensing facial expressions. Even without the VR aspect, however, the AirWave makes a strong case for functional personal air filters and street-level, scattered, real-time air quality monitoring.