US offers $500,000 in prize money for cutting-edge designs that solve problems with face masks

The US government is offering $500,000 (£360,000) in prize money for people to design a new generation of face masks.

The Department of Health and Human Services has launched the competition – available to Americans only – which is called Mask Innovation Challenge: Building Tomorrow’s Mask.

In a post announcing the challenge, officials said that skin irritation can occur when masks are worn for prolonged periods of time, glasses can get steamed up, and people can have difficulty communicating.

It is hoped the challenge will “improve the comfort, utility, and protective capabilities of products that are worn during day-to-day activities by the general public when physical distancing is not possible”.

Another issue that the competition is seeking to remedy is the fact that not many masks on sale now have been tested to show how effective they are.

The prospectus said: “In addition, many masks that are currently available tout unconfirmed protective capabilities that lack scientific evidence to support such claims.

“Overall, there is a need to develop better designs, materials, and technologies that are more acceptable to wearers and that ensure quantified measures of performance.”

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An initial design competition will see up to 10 entrants receive $10,000 (£7,232) each in order to develop prototypes.

A second round will then take place which will be a proof of concept based contest.

This will see $400,000 (£289,310) split between five winners.

In the challenge’s description, it says the aim is “to develop innovative and effective designs for mass-producible, low-cost-per-use devices to be worn by the general public in order to provide protection from respiratory disease pathogens”.

It adds: “Furthermore, users of these devices should be able to put them on and wear them without extensive fitting procedures or complicated user instructions.”

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The deadline to enter the competition is 21 April.

The requirements for entrants states: “In the case of a private entity, shall be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States, and in the case of an individual, whether participating singly or in a group, shall be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States.”

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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