How easy will a smart, Bluetooth-connected mask be to produce?
I think all the technology is available today. The limiting factor is mainly our time. This is one of the passion projects that two of our designers — Azure Yang and Mingmin Wang — are moving along next to our commercial projects. And that has certain implications in terms of the speed at which we're going. But I also look at it in a really positive way. It allows us to let the people who are interested — society, so to speak — partake in how the idea comes about. It allows them to renegotiate what is desirable, and what China as a society is ready to stomach.
What will the mask be made of?
There are different design explorations. Many masks today are made of a certain fabric or textiles, but as air pollution gets worse, you see more hard-shell masks, which make a statement, and that is where we are currently landing. I think in the end our mask is going to be a mix of a plastic shell with the parts that will connect with your skin made of a silicon material. Next to that are the basic components such as the small battery and the particle filter. And then the actual filter tissue, which we don't we want to change, because it is more or less an industry standard. Last but not least, it is all about the connectivity, and the software that puts it all together.
Will you be taking the design on from here?
In order to nail this we will need to continue to prototype both the software and the mask. We have to actually create a collection of physical prototypes and appearance models to make sure it feels comfortable, and has the right size. Being in China, building a physical prototype is one thing you can do easily and quickly.
What has designing the smart mask taught you?
I think one insight that really has become a bit of mantra is the relevance of openness and transparency in tomorrow’s urban environments. For a city to be liveable and humane, I think we need to move away from looking at it as this polished, sterile environment. I think the cities that will be appealing and liveable for citizens are the ones that are actually enabling and encouraging participation and innovation. And I don't really believe in this tightly integrated, very efficient environment that is going to be managed out of single control room. I think it is an organic network of data collection points — that everybody can tap into — that really keeps the city alive and liveable. This mask is a very small concept, admittedly, but one that perfectly embodies this insight for us. It was good exercise to go through in order to evolve our thinking on what innovation in the future city means and has to look like.