Face Mask Made With Soft Robotics
Aposema, Credit: Adi Meyer, Sirou Peng, Silvia Rueda, 2017
A recent face mask developed in the fast-paced field of 3D printing holds great promise for applications of the technology in life sciences. The face mask, developed by Adi Meyer, Sirou Peng and Silvia Rueda, uses colored fluid to mimic human emotions.
Advances in soft robotics now enable the creation of robotic agents from highly-compliant materials similar to those found in living organisms. Applications of soft robotics include surgery as well as wearable technology.
The face mask project uses technology developed in the course of a Master’s degree research paper by the project’s creators. The project’s creators wanted to do for the human face what the smartphone has done for extending human communications.
Breaking Social Barriers With Interaction Design
Face Recognition. Credit: British Journal of Psychology 102.4 (2011): 799-815
What makes the face mask project particularly significant is the combination, uniquely, of soft robotics and 3D printing. These technologies came together in the project to create an artificial mask that has life-like qualities. In particular, the mask is able to detect the wearer’s emotions and change color to reflect different emotions. Besides applications of face masks in other settings, the project also offers lessons for the human-computer interface.
Adi Meyer, the initiator of the responsive face mask project, is an interaction designer and architect who works primarily in London. Her cutting edge work explores social boundaries.
Meyer finished a Bachelor’s in Architecture at the Azrieli School of Architecture at Tel Aviv University. Since then, she has explored her idea that design can be used as a tool for exploring social constructs. The responsive face mask project highlights the interaction of design with deep questions about the human experience.
The project deals on an academic level with deep issues such as face perception and face recognition as an innate human ability. The project creators had the idea that a wearable mask would “augment the intellect or the senses of the wearer while other tasks are being performed.”
The Evolution Of Wearable Technology
Adi Meyer traces the inspiration for the project in other wearable technology as well as technology that is an extension of the self. She frequently cites examples such as the smartphone, to which many users have become closely attached in recent times.
Wearables, according to Meyer, “usually aspire to be extensions of self, to be aware; responsive and networked.” By this measure, the responsive face mask delivers as it is responsive and aware, changing when a user’s emotional state changes. The use of soft electronics assures these goals, but could also enable the networking capability with ease.
In a further elaboration, Meyer adds that wearables “intake sensory input (such as temperature, sound and proximity), recognise them, adapt to them and react accordingly.”
This view of wearables and what they should accomplish defines blueprints for current wearables as well as what might come next in the field. A survey of wearables by The Guardian covering products like Google Glass and Pebble shows innovation that fits this prescription. Wearable face masks using soft robotics could enable novel means of controlling technology and making use of it.
How The Technology Works
To deliver the functionality in the face mask, Adi Meyer’s team used the Soft Robotics Toolkit developed by the Harvard Biodesign Lab. The toolkit facilitates the design and creation of soft robotic devices. Its collection of resources includes a fluidic control board with an open source usage model as well as design documents for a collection of components using soft robotics materials.
Meyer’s project showcases the success of this soft robotics toolkit as well as the open source approach. This approach allows researchers and industrial innovators to build upon the work of many others in quickly creating or prototyping new concepts. The use of 3D printing enables many of the components to be created at a low cost from designs available as part of the toolkit.
In addition, the team used the ground-breaking MyoWare Muscle Sensor, which enables control of devices using muscle sensors.
Applications Of Soft Robotics In Surgery
Credit: Harvard University
Due to their soft properties, soft robotics are being deployed in the field of invasive surgery where soft robotics provide a safer alternative to hard instruments. For example, the Wyss Institute at Harvard University has created a smarter, softer robotic arm for endoscopic surgery using soft robotics.
The surgical arm can traverse inside the human body more safely due to its soft characteristics. When it gets into position, the arm uses pop-up actuators to right itself and perform actions. The use of soft robotics holds great promise for making it easier to perform surgery in hard to reach or narrow areas of the human body.
Wearable Tech And Other Industrial Applications
While applications of the soft robotics and materials science in medicine and surgery are promising, wearables themselves also hold great potential. A report on the industry indicates that wearables will grow by 11.25% compounded annually between 2017 and 2021. Titled “Global Industrial Smart Sensors Market 2017-2021,” the report notes the growing applications of sensors in wearable technology.
Sensors will increasingly be embedded in helmets, jackets and other wearables. Industrial internet of things technology will connect these sensors to other data sources and processors.
This connectivity fulfills the networking criteria that Adi Meyer held as prototypal for wearables. When these elements are present, industrial workers will be able to conduct their work at higher productivity and, using real-time data, more safely. The technology will also be useful in consumer wearable tech for games and other applications.
The Future Of Soft Robotics
Soft robotics being developed at Carnegie Mellon inspired the design of a new Disney hero. (credit: Chris Atkeson)
The responsive face mask by Adi Meyer and her team shows the success of soft robotics in creating life-like applications. The materials science and soft robotics involved in the project may have applications that help the medical field in the near future.
Beyond medicine, however, the use of soft robotics opens up a vista of applications in wearable technology for industrial and other applications.