A rapper, a technologist, and an audio engineer walk into a room…

Earlier this month Honeywell launched the Xupermask. Honeywell and music legend will.i.am teamed up to design a protective face mask with audio features. It’s imperative to note straight out that the Xupermask is not FDA cleared or approved. According to Honeywell, The FDA okayed the Xupermask under EUA (emergency use authorization) as a pandemic source control for health care professionals (HCP) in healthcare settings and the general public. According to the FDA, infection source control refers to masks that “cover a person’s mouth and nose when they are talking, sneezing, or coughing to reduce the likelihood of transmission of infection by preventing the spread of respiratory secretions.” But the medical uses stop there. The Xupermask isn’t a medical device, a respirator, an N95 mask, or a surgical mask. The Xupermask doesn’t qualify as personal protective equipment (PPE). That’s quite a laundry list of what the Xupermask doesn’t do, or isn’t qualified for. So what is the Xupermask good for?

Besides looking cool — my opinion, though yours may vary — the Xupermask is an air purifier mask with replaceable HEPA filters and dual 3-speed fans. The fans and filtering protect others from your secretions but, as a source control, doesn’t appear to do as much for the wearer. This is the opposite of many masks which focus on filtering only for the wearer. Honeywell rates the Xupermask’s replaceable HEPA filters for 30 days. Three filters ship with the mask. HEPA-rated filters generally filter 99.97% of particulate matter as small as 0.3 microns. The HEPA rating is fine for trapping bacteria, which range from 1 to 10 microns in length and from 0.2 to 1 micron in width, according to the Water Quality Association. Unfortunately virus microbes are roughly 100 times smaller than bacteria, ranging from 0.004 to 0.1 microns in size. COVID-19 is a virus. HEPA filters don’t stop them. However, even though single microbes could slip through a HEPA filter, if they’re suspended in liquid from a cough or sneeze, they’re less likely to break through. So the Xupermask isn’t perfect protection for the wearer or others, but it can help. Hence the EUA.

The Xupermask’s audio features make it a standout. The wearable makes uses a Qualcomm extremely low power high-quality QCC5124 chipset for audio streaming via Bluetooth 5.0. It also has active noise cancellation and ambient noise reduction for the microphone. The Xupermask runs up to 7 hours per battery charge. Honeywell designed the mask for year-round wear. Will.i.am’s website sells the Xupermask for $300 in black or white. The first production run sold out but you can put your name on a mailing list for notification when the masks are again available.

Even though the Xupermask affords only moderate protection from viruses, its dual role as an mobile audio wearable with high-end features makes it an interesting addition to the field. And I still think it looks cool.