Scientists develop prototype face mask that detects COVID-19

A mask embedded with sensors developed by US engineers can flag the presence of a COVID-19 infection within 90 minutes

Face mask
Felice Frankel/MIT News Office

A prototype mask developed by engineers at MIT and Harvard University can detect whether the wearer has a COVID-19 infection within 90 minutes.

The technology, which is described in Nature Biotechnology, incorporates small disposable sensors that are capable of being fitted on to other garments or adapted to detect other viruses.

Professor James Collins, of MIT, highlighted that as well as detecting viral and bacterial compounds, the freeze-dried sensors could detect toxic chemicals – such as nerve toxins.

“We envision that this platform could enable next-generation wearable biosensors for first responders health care personnel and military personnel,” he said.

The mask includes a small reservoir of water that is released when a wearer is ready to perform a test at the push of a button.

This hydrates the freeze-dried viral sensor which then analyses the breath droplets that have accumulated within the inside of the mask and gives a result within 90 minutes.

The prototype incorporates sensors both on the inside of the mask to determine whether the wearer has COVID-19 and on the outside of the mask to detect exposure from their environment.

Researchers, who have filed for a patent on the technology, highlight that the sensors are as sensitive as gold-standard PCR tests, while producing a result within a similar time frame to the rapid antigen tests.