Interactive face mask

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in progress - beam


Suddenly Masks!

The face mask in the Netherlands is not obligatory. In other countries it is.

The main first goal for wearing the mask is protection. But then it gets complicated. Anything worn on the face makes a story. The face provides nearly all the expression. Masking the mouth is masking speech, masking laughing, being angry, masking identity.

You see a picture of a mask. But a picture is static. The mask is worn. Adding interactivity increases this even more: the mask wants to be performed. See for instance here sound is added, the sound creates a rhythm, this induces movement.

And this facial recognition problem. Before the pandemic, walking around with a mask was very suspicious. Now it could become normal. Then experimenting (say) with cloaking masks becomes also "normal". It could not even be called evading facial recognition anymore: But even this is "contradicted again:

From the visual to the fashionable

The face mask as a product worn by people is having a great impact on the visual aspect of the face, which is one of the most expressive parts of the human being.

The mouth is invisible, you cannot see anymore if the person is smiling or getting angry, shouting, being cynical.

The "product" as being a visible item on the body also has it "fashionable" sides:, initiated by Marina Toeters in the "Fashion Technology Farm".


One of the masks of Marina Toeters, having a picture printed on it, appropriately worn at the citrus fruits section of the supermarket:

Captura de pantalla 2020-04-19 a las 19.56.47.png


Both the Marina Toeters group and I and no doubt many others, are thinking on how e-textiles could be integrated inside the mask.

Recursive effects

The face mask has many might seem a simple protective measure, but it is also psychological: you might think to be safe with a mask - and you might, by wearing a mask and go out, think you are safe instead of staying at home. Thus wearing a mask might induce reckless behavior, increasing the risk, for yourself and others. These is called recursive effects. It makes life interesting, showing there are no simple solutions.

An early try out

A super simple sketch, to get some ideas about how this looks, and what the consequences might be.


There are two LED's (these "big" LED's), one red, one green, indicating infected or not. It could also indicate: green - I have had the disease, I am immune, red: I didn't get the infection yet.


Some questions:

  • Technical: can we measure infection directly (no, virus is too small).
  • Semiotics: Is the meaning of the "red" and "green" clear? (now as shown above, red can mean danger, I am sick, but also I am still not immune, quite ambiguous.
  • Societal: if you are walking around with a mask with a red LED on, while you be lynched by a mob?
  • Hygiene: the mask has to be changed and washed several times a day, what about the electronics?


The shape of the mask is interesting because this is for once NOT a box or rectangular. It should fit around our head and is in principle a single curved surface.

Some mask are very flexible and will fit always, but some mask are more stiff.

When you try a more stiff mask on it turns out that your head has a different shape than the head the mask was intended for.

When I was making a fabric mask, which looks simple, it became suddenly more complex. The shape from the downloaded example was clearly not having the idea that I have a nose. (Never thought of my nose in that way.) This means the curved shape has to be designed further, to accommodate for my nose...

  • fabric types
  • 3D printed types

interactivity - electronics of e-textiles

What are the possibilities thinking from e-textiles - which interactivity could be added.


Probing the possibilities:

  • temperature sensor - makes sense, although microcontroller temperature sensors cannot measure your temperature sufficiently accurate.
  • gas/pollution sensor - makes sense, although your breath is usually having a higher CO2 rate.
  • light sensor - what purpose?
  • humidity - measuring the quality of your breath?
  • air pressure - what purpose?
  • sound - show speaking

Temperature sensors

Pollution sensors

Integrated sensors


Bluetooth connection to your smart phone. The microcontroller in the mask can have information, for example from the apps tracing people and seeing if your were in contact with a person later to be identified as having the infection.

TFT screen mask

The face is one of the expressive parts of the human body. Maybe the most expressive. Eyes and mouth are the most vivid parts of the face.

The mask is hiding the mouth. Thus not only expressivity is reduced, also the channel for indicating communication is blocked.

Using a TFT screen on the spot of the mouth tries to restore some of this expressivity.

Images are saved on a SD card and different images can be shown.

The result is quite crude. The images ... are they replacing audio communication - the words?

Ff4.png Ff5.png


The model of the mask is having a "real" nose. Also the "ear" parts are added.

The fabric is fairly thick unbleached linen, giving a sturdy support, but this material is not very fashionable...

The TFT screen has its own support and can be taken of from the mask, so that the mask can be washed nd cleaned.

Show speaking mask

When the mouth is hidden you can still hear the other person, but you cannot visually check is this person is really speaking.

Using an electret microphone and an ATtiny85 with four LED's, the speaking action can be made visible.

Ff3.png Inside of the mask

As expected the result is again bizar. Can 4 LED's replace the "mouth"? Not really...:-)

Ff1.png Ff2.png


The model of the mask is the two parts of roughly a quarter circle. For sewing the electronics inside this mask, this provides a nearly "normal" surface.

The electronics touching the face can be resolved using another fabric inside.

Since the electronics are sewn to the fabric, this mask is not very washable!

Electronic add on mask

In this mask a microcontroller with input buttons and sensors is added in side a fabric envelope.

This maks has the possibility of measuring temperature, acceleration and showing scrolling text.

Also sound is integrated in the electronics: it can play a tune!

The electronics is removable in the case of washing. The electronics runs on a 3V coin cell battery.

Bb1.png Bb4.pngBb2.png Bb3.png

Making the fabric envelope is quite elaborate. This fabric part can be omitted when using a lasercutter.


Having made this fabric version, being busy for hours, could this not be done more designerish with a lasercutter????

So Marina Toeters of The Fashion Tech Farm provided me with me the lasercut version:

Fm50.png Fm51.png Fm52.png Fm53.png Fm54.png

Resulting in this dance on the music mask:

(face mask with BBC Microbit, facemask by Marina Toeters, graphic design Paperfuel // Karin Luttenberg,

Carry your tools mask

The mask which is made by folding the fabric inspired me: folds can easily become pockets.

This could also be the solution for the washing problem: you can take the electronics simply out of the folds.

I made a version with the Japanese wrapping cloth called Furoshiki 風呂敷.

Because of the folds you need a lot of length: 50 cm or so.

The mask gets thick and the tools make it heavy to wear.

Bb6.png Bb7.png Bb8.png

A movie can be found here:

This version is quite hilarious. We Start looking like insects, having tools attached to our faces.

making masks

Many tutorials can be found (suddenly).

The folded mask

A disposable one:


This Japanese tutorial is charming:

Japanese handkerchief:

Quite remarkable is that you can even see her smiling, just by looking at her eyes.


Another way of folding the mask:


The shaped mask

Ffm3.png Ffm4.png

from, having separated replaceable filters.

Making this yourself:

This person is using a plate as the starting shape:


From special e-textile materials, like s silver mesh:



There are many face masks or masks, from just a piece of cloth to very protective ones, with special filters, right through to the military masks, originating probably in WW1. In WW1 poisonous gas was released inside the tranches, leading to the most terrible wounds of the soldiers. Because they still used horses and donkeys, also these animals got masks.


We as civilians use fabric masks, the experts don't agree on the effectivity of fabric masks for protecting us against infection of COVID-19.

Types of masks

  • N95 Respirators
  • Surgical Mask
  • fabric DIY masks
  • other important types? (to be investigated)


Suddenly all kinds of studies can be found about the effectivity of face masks.

A general introduction:, discussion about pro's and con's of different types of masks.

AN example of a comparison of two types of masks:

The Surprising Truth About N95 Respirators VS Surgical Mask:

You learn about the filters - this means that a simple "fabric" is not enough!

As usual, now there is an avalanche of people discussion the masks, even the big experts and virologists are not agreeing about the effectivity for civilians to wear the masks.


People are inventing very strange ways to protect themselves:


These ideas show really great resourcefulness and many ways to use materials in a "new" way.