As we move past 2020 and into 2021, COVID-19 is still a dark cloud that hangs over us all. Part of that reality means that we’ll likely be wearing face masks well into 2021 (and likely 2022).
While wearing a face mask is essential to the well-being of everyone, it does have its downsides. It can be difficult to breathe sometimes. It can be difficult to hear what people are saying. And it can be difficult to get a read on people’s facial reactions. (That said, in the name of everything that is sacred, please continue to wear a mask.) We’ve already seen the evolution of standard cloth face masks. Now we have athletic face masks, clear face masks and even designer face masks.
However, as new strains of COVID emerge, many health professionals believe that we’ll soon need more effective face masks.
With this in mind, Razer — which is one of the biggest gaming brands on the planet — has been thinking about what that means for our day-to-day life going forward and solutions that would make face masks more useful. And at the Consumer Electronics Show 2021, they finally showed off the fruits of their labor: Project Hazel.
The Inspiration Behind Razer’s Futuristic Face Mask
Razer was first inspired to start working on Project Hazel after it began developing medical-grade disposable face masks for frontline workers in the spring of 2020. But more than just a fashion accessory, Project Hazel is a face mask that is designed for social interaction as much as it’s designed for comfort and style.
It’s also worth noting that this mask is only a design concept for now, so it’s entirely possible that Razer decides not to move forward with this as a retail product. But even if this never makes it to market, the research and design work done here is invaluable, as it highlights how products can address some of the social challenges we currently face.
Each year at CES companies like Razer debut concept products, and this is pretty much the perfect concept product for the COVID era. Because of its high-tech features and slick design, SPY named the Project Hazel face mask one of the best products of CES 2021.
The Anatomy of a Smart Mask
At its core, Project Hazel is a waterproof and scratch-resistant face mask that is made from recycled materials. It is built around two surgical-grade N95 respirators, which are not only able to filter air coming into the mask, but also air going out. This is crucial, because many vent-style face masks only filter air one way. On top of this, the N95 filters are replaceable, so you can change them out once they’ve served their purpose.
Razer says that the active ventilation design of the mask also helps to keep you cool while you’re wearing it. Plus, the design prevents the buildup of CO2. There is also a silicone guard that runs along the nose and cheeks to improve comfort while wearing the mask for long periods of time.
But this isn’t considered a smart mask for nothing, and this thing has technological tricks galore. Each of the respirator zones also has a microphone and amplifier built into it so that people can better hear you when you speak. The technology is called VoiceAmp, a technology that Razer has filed a patent for.
And this being a Razer product and all, there are LEDs in this thing, and yes you can choose from 16 million colors and customize those LEDs thanks to Razer’s Chroma RGB technology. But it’s not purely for show. The mask is made from clear plastic that allows others to see your facial expressions and mouth movements as you talk. And when you’re in a dark environment, the LEDs light up the mouth so people can see. Since this is coming from a gaming company, many see the obvious benefits of this for professional esports players during a match. But beyond that, the implications could be huge for those with hearing disabilities who read lips in order to communicate with the rest of the world.
And, of course, this mask comes with its own sanitizing case, so that when you’re ready to use it at the start of every day, it is germ-free.
Ultimately, this is still just a thought exercise, and the heavy Cyberpunk influence here won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But what’s undeniable is that many of the central ideas are ones that we’re likely to see in future face masks. And if Razer doesn’t make a mask like this, we’re willing to bet another company will.