Department of Health and Human Services offers $500K in mask design contest

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The Department of Health and Human Services is seeking a mask of tomorrow – and has announced total cash prizes of $500,000 for the winners of a competition to come up with one.

The “Mask Innovation Challenge: Building Tomorrow’s Mask” is a partnership between HHS’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

It “seeks 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,” according to the challenge website.

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

HHS said that as public health agencies around the world encourage people to wear masks, “there remain notable barriers that reduce overall mask usage.

“These barriers include issues such as contact dermatitis with prolonged wear, physical discomfort, fogging of eyeglasses, and difficulty communicating. In addition, many masks that are currently available tout unconfirmed protective capabilities that lack scientific evidence to support such claims,” it said.

The challenge will run for a minimum of six months and will be divided into two phases, followed by a possible third.

In the first phase, participants will be asked to submit concepts for a redesigned mask according to rules outlined in the announcement.

“Up to 40 regional winners (within up to 4 regions) will be selected to move on to the DRIVe Accelerator Network Product Pitch Competition, where they will present their design to a panel of federal and non-federal experts,” it said.

“Of those finalists, up to 10 will be selected to receive the final prize of up to $10,000 each to create a prototype of their concept. Prototypes and physical products will not be tested in Phase 1, but may be eligible for consideration in future phases.”

A prize of $400,000 will be divided among five winners of Phase 2.  

The designs will be judged by four criteria: technological feasibility, innovation, whether they address existing mask barriers and the overall design.

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