Speech-friendly face mask could end frustration of muffled chat

The funding for a study to improve the design of masks was awarded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council.

Dr Stone, who is also Manchester BRC Developing Engineering Solutions Programme Lead, consulted with members of the Deaf community and people with experience of hearing loss.

Feedback from the community, and other users, allowed the team to refine the design, which was validated in a recent paper in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America [2].

Professor Trevor Cox, from the acoustics research centre at the University of Salford, and the Maker Space team, also based there, developed a re-usable cotton-based mask design, allowing it to be manufactured widely.

The design incorporates an optically transparent panel, supported on a thin ‘scaffold’, which produces less muffling of sound than a conventional opaque mask with the acoustic signal (sound) from the mouth.

Prof Cox said: “By reducing the weight of the transparent plastic, we could stop the high frequency parts of speech being lost in the mask. The scaffold to support the thin plastic sheet is carefully designed not to hinder the sound.”

Dr Stone said: “This is a brilliant linking up of two diverse academic pursuits, psychology and physics, to produce real-world benefit for a wide range of people.

“The optical panel has also been shown to be effective  in face visors, and we are now looking for commercial partners so as to extend the reach of the designs and prototypes as well as incorporating a novel lightweight filtration material developed at The University of Manchester.”

Templates for the mask designs, available in three sizes, and a link to a “how-to-make” video hosted on YouTube are available at [3] https://hub.salford.ac.uk/sirc-acoustics/facemask-with-improved-communication/

[1] Saunders G.H., Jackson I.R., Visram A.S. (2021) Impacts of face coverings on communication: an indirect impact of COVID-19, International Journal of Audiology, 60:7, 495-506, https://www.doi.org/10.1080/14992027.2020.1851401

[2] Cox T.J.,  Dodgson G., Harris L., Perugia E., Stone M.A., Walsh M. (2022) Improving the measurement and acoustic performance of transparent facemasks and shields.  J. Acoust. Soc. Amer. 151, https://www.doi.org/10.1121/10.0010384

[3] Maker Space URL for templates & video. https://hub.salford.ac.uk/sirc-acoustics/facemask-with-improved-communication/

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