Last year at this time, no one expected most people in the U.S. would be required, expected, or even asked to wear air filtration masks in public areas. The COVID-19 pandemic happened, however, and health experts are nearly unanimous in their support for masks as one of three significant actions we can take to help stem the spread of the virus. The other key activities are to maintain social distance and to stay home as much as possible. Aside from the resistance of people who don’t believe masks are necessary at all, many people aren’t sure which type of mask is best.

Many of us are still trying to decide whether to wear cloth, surgical, or N95 filtration masks. Ao Air recently debuted the Atmos, an active air filtration mask substitute, Originally founded in New Zealand, Brooklyn-based Ao-Air developed the Atmos as an alternative protective technology. The Atmos uses Ao-Air’s patent-pending PositivAir system that allows the wearer to breathe clean air without needing a mask that seals around the mouth and nose. The system creates positive air pressure that keeps stops other air from flowing into the mask area. Ao-Air claims the Atmos system provides up to 50 times better protection than other leading solutions. To back up its claims, Ao-Air references a face mask performance comparison summary conducted in February. The company also includes a link to additional background on the independent study by the Aukland University of Technology.

The Atmos looks like a large collar that fits around your neck. The front section is transparent and resembles an over-size set of ski goggles that you pulled down and are resting in front of your nose and mouth. The Atmos relies on two filters. A pre-filter removes the largest particulates, according to the company, and an active nano-filter protects the wearer from fine dust particles, pollen, and ash. The Atmos runs on a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery for up to five hours per charge. Fans in the device can provide up to 240-liters of filtered air per minute, according to Ao-Air.

The initial Atmos production run sold out, according to Ao-Air, but the company is taking 20% deposits for pre-orders for the next run, expected sometime in July. The Atmos costs $350 and sales are limited to five devices per customer. The Atmos comes with a USB charging cable and carrying case. Extra filters, which the company says will last up to one month each, cost $50 for four.

It’s probably inevitable that entrepreneurs inspired by the sudden global demand for an unfamiliar technology are offering fancier and more expensive mask-like solutions. We hope that the claims of higher filtration efficiency and greater protection bear out, but at $350 each, only a relatively small portion of the population will be able to afford the Atmos. It is important to note that one of the main reasons for wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic is to protect those around in case you are infected. The Atmos is in fact the opposite; it aims to protect the wearer from airborne contaminants, but if the wearer is infected, the pressurized air will simply disperse the virus.