BY Farah Khalfe 5 MINUTE READ

The Dubai Global Grad Show is an annual social impact innovation programme that calls for graduates across the world to submit projects and proposals in the fields of art, design, science, engineering and technology, that provide innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues. 

Held in partnership  with Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD), and supported by A.R.M. Holding and Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, this year marks the 5th iteration of the event, and naturally, is centered on the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Created as a response to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Global Grad Show open call invited over 260 universities to to put forward solutions to the escalating challenges faced  by people, communities and governments across the world.The initiative received approximately 390 applications between March 16 and April 2, 2020, and applications were evaluated by a jury of senior representatives from four leading private and public organisations.  

For the next phase, Global Grad Show will engage with the students and professors behind these applications to analyse their development requirements, and to identify proposals that can be supported towards testing and implementation.

The creators of any selected projects will be awarded the tuition fee of their current studies, or equivalent scholarship for the department of selected professor(s), as well as support for the development of their concept and building their business. 

There were many exemplary submissions, including  Foresight –  an AI system to monitor patient recovery from Covid-19; Project Social Space, which focuses on repurposing public areas across Dubai to balance the need for outdoor activities in times of social distancing; and Fresh Tracker – which optimises the use of food supplies by helping people organise the storage of fresh and pantry items in a convenient and hygienic way. 

Then there is one innovation that truly stood out, from South African student Denzill Bothma from Tshwane University of Technology: A micro-mask. Essentially a smart mask that provides uninterrupted protection via bluetooth, the mask reduced the risk of contamination from mobile phones.

Fast Company SA chatted exclusively to Denzill about the concept, how he came up with it and how it works: 

1. How did you come up with the concept of the micro-mask?
I was inspired by COVID-19 and came to hear of the Global Grad Show in Dubai.

My thoughts when designing the micro mask was to go for a more modernized look to fit into today’s times. Something that looks appealing and fits comfortability while serving the purpose.

Most people have not worn masks in their daily routines before Covid-19 happened and to get people to wear masks was the main aim – to ensure the necessary protection against the spreading of the virus.

2. Can you explain a bit more about the design of the mask? How do you assemble it and how does it work when being worn?
The idea of the design is that the mask will already be fully assembled when purchased. Research indicated that most people don’t like products that they themselves have to assemble.

Consisting of two parts already connected with one another, is the shield which covers the nose and mouth area and two headphones covering the ears. The headphones purpose includes holding the mask in place.

A Bluetooth system is part of the mask which allows the user to speak and listen, the music playing will automatically be muted when an incoming call is received.

3. Aside from pillowcases, what other repurposed materials can be used to produce the masks?
Except for cotton, that seems to be an honest choice.  It is important to look at a suitable material that will ensure a balance between breathability and filtration.

The following other repurposed materials can also be used to produce the micro-mask:

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is highly recyclable plastic, inexpensive, lightweight, resealable and shatter-resistant.

Polycarbonate (PC) excellent material that is highly-performing, 100% recyclable and produced in an eco-friendly manner.

Creator Denzill Bothma

4. Is there a particular demographic for whom these masks are aimed? i.e business people, social media-savvy teens, a specific country etc.?
My aim is that the micro masks will be suitable for use by all and anywhere throughout the world subject to the applicable treaties (legislation) applicable in each respective country. It is also our objective to make it tailor-made for the need of each country. 

Being a student myself, I most definitely think that the younger generations would like wearing it, because of their liking for tech and a modernised-look.

It will also most definitely be suitable for business people, as they won’t have to bring their cell phones to their face to communicate keeping them safe and preventing the spread of the virus. The use of the mask whilst commuting will fit the purpose.

5. Why do you think these micro-masks are a necessity for the pandemic? In what ways will it help society move forward?
There is an immense necessity for the micro-mask not only for the pandemic but also for use in the future, few that are mentioned below.

Firstly, and most importantly the micro-masks are seen as part of protective gear to save people from contracting the virus.

Secondly, it will ensure that individuals can optimize their communication without touching their cellphones therefore minimize the physical handling of the cellphone.

Thirdly, the modernization of the mask ensures that various professions such as the medical profession can use it, for example: whilst executing an operation in the theatre. The current state is that it is difficult to properly hear what a person says with the current mask, specifically with soft-spoken individuals. The latter could cause losing a life during an operation.

Furthermore, the interaction between individuals can be taped for future purposes.

The micro-mask will also have an emotional impact in that it will serve to take our minds of the pandemic, listening to music/radio while wearing can sooth minds.

We have to look at ideas to encourage the wearing of masks, the Coronavirus is not going to be over soon.  Why not design and manufacture something that will encourage people and make them want to wear it? A highly effective mask with a modern look and modern technology.

If people use protective masks, get more comfortable with them it will ensure a safer environment for all and in this process the lockdowns will allow more people to return to workplaces, getting the economy rolling.

The modern look and use of micro-mask will certainly encourage people to continue to wear it even after the lockdown period of the Covid-19. It is seen as a ”must have” for the future generation of the world.

6. Where/how will these masks be made accessible to people should be become successful in the competition?
I look forward to getting business associates, cell phone companies or manufacturers on board to take this design further to the manufacturing phase and to make it available to as many people and countries as possible.