Face mask, but make it fashion

Even before the COVID-19 swept the globe, face masks were a multi-billion dollar industry. For years, they’ve been a common sight in large cities across East Asia and beyond, worn by citizens looking for protection from pollution, seasonal illness and the common cold – a functional, but uncool, accessory for commuters everywhere.

While many Americans have balked at wearing masks even during the pandemic, elsewhere face masks are likely to remain a part of everyday even after we’ve overcome this coronavirus. For some context: there have been about 4.4 million reported deaths from COVID-19 as of late August 2021; the World Health Organization estimates air pollution kills 7 million people worldwide every year. WHO data shows 9 of 10 people on Earth breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits for pollutants.

Ao Air believes breathable air is a basic human right and people should be able to live and work without fearing the air they breathe. A startup that describes itself as born in New Zealand and styled in New York City and Portland, Ore., Ao Air is applying modern technology and design thinking to mask making. The result is a mask so sleek it’s been featured on the runways of fashion week.

They call it the Atmos mask. It’s a personal, portable air purifier designed to provide clean, cool air for every breath, without requiring a seal. Scientists at the Auckland University of Technology compared Atmos against traditional masks (antipollution, N95, sports filtration, etc) and found the Atmos, a reusable model formerly known as the O2O2, tested up to 50x better than leading masks and 25x better than N95 masks at protecting from particulate matter.

A member of the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab accelerator program, Ao Air is using Solidworks as their key design tool and ENOVIA product lifecycle management software to manage their global rollout strategy. The company is also using 3DS modeling tools to test air flow, the filter and fans on the mask.

How it works

While most masks require a seal to be effective, Ao Air’s patent-pending PositivAir technology uses fans to create a positive-pressure clean air environment that allows for safe, free breathing without seals around the mouth and nose. Cool air can comfortably escape the mask around the face, creating one-way outflow that keeps outside air on out.

A Bluetooth “brain” built into the mask tracks respiratory activity and adapts accordingly, to ensure protection without fogging up the clear mask. A re-chargeable battery offers more than 5 hours of protection.

Design thinking is key to Ao Air’s disruptiveness. In a 2017 video, co-Founder and CEO Dan Bowden said the vision was to “redefine the market for respirators and facemasks for those at risk of air pollution.” Because the face is a person’s “most valuable part of real estate” on someone’s body, “we have to have a design thinking ethos hard coded into everything do, think and say.”

In other words, Ao Air is developing effective, protective masks designed to not only put a smile on your face, but show it.

Learn more about the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab accelerator program. And check out more stories about 3DEXPERIENCE Lab startups. 

Patrick Ball

Patrick Ball

Patrick is a Senior Communications Manager on the Corporate Publishing team here at Dassault Systèmes. An experienced journalist, marketer, speechwriter and storyteller, Patrick's words have appeared on pages and stages around the world.