Razer’s New Zephyr ‘Smart Mask’ is a Bright Vision of a Cyberpunk Future

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Razer, the computer company best known for its RGB lighting, announced a smart mask called “Project Hazel” earlier this year. Today this concept has materialized with a new name: the Zephyr.

The Razer Zephyr has two N95 filters, one on each side, and a passive filter at the bottom which are changed by removing the magnetically attached plastic covers. It has a transparent outer shell and internal lighting to better see people’s lips. There are two-speed fans, controlled by a companion app or the power button on the right chamber and, of course, customizable external lights.

Over the past two years, during the pandemic, most people have worn smaller sheet masks, and the move to a larger N95 mask – especially a larger, higher-end one like this – looks like walk around like Mad Max Immortan Joe. But it’s an upgrade that experts say it might be necessary for everyone to face new variants of the coronavirus and perhaps protect yourself from air pollution.

Razer’s reasoning for building what it calls “the world’s smartest mask” is short and corporate: “Many have suffered from the shortage of equipment to combat this pandemic,” the company says. “We saw and seized this opportunity to bring innovation into a space that has been largely devoid of technology.”

In the real world, wearing the mask feels like a statement, more than wearing a less visible filter cloth or mask. That’s kind of what I imagine the early Google Glass supporters must have felt: “I know something about the future that you don’t know”. It’s hard to say if a smart mask is more dystopian, more cyberpunk, or less than Glass.

The Zephyr looks like Razer’s attempt to enter the ground floor, using its technological capabilities to make masks both a fashion icon (a trend that had already started due to mass pollution) and visible advertising for the company with its iconic lighting effects. If tomorrow holds smart glasses and clothes, why not smart masks too?

I also never had the same intensity of conviction about smart masks that lens wearers must have done, partly because of professional skepticism but also because they are big and bulky. Most people will want to store the mask, when not wearing it, in a bag or backpack rather than wearing it uncomfortably around their neck. I had to do some preparation to wear a mask which by definition makes it look unnatural.

Razer claims the mask filters out 95% of particles, although there doesn’t appear to be any clear evidence of this on the company’s website currently. In contrast, a tightly woven fabric mask with at least two layers can achieve a filtration efficiency of around 40-80%, said Dr Miranda Loh, an exhibit scientist and head of environmental and public health at the Institute. of occupational medicine. The independent, but stressed that “no matter how well the material of a mask is filtered, if the fit is poor, the mask will not achieve a high level of protection.”

Having worn the Zephyr for a week while walking and on public transport, it is overall comfortable and its adjustable strap fits well around the head. The silicone cup has a tight seal, but not pressurizing, and for the record, it makes a difference to breathe in places like the London Underground – which has historically experienced “dangerously high” pollution levels.

As for other features, the external lights are neat and can alternate between a rainbow of colors or two shades for a “breathing” effect – but just like light-up computers and mice aren’t as convincing as the wearer thinks so.

The internal light makes communication easier (and hopefully future Zephyrs might have a dedicated button to activate it) and might be useful for deaf people who have had difficulty reading other people’s lips or reading facial cues of people wearing conventional masks.

Assuming, that is, that other people get hold of it. There are some things that can give people reservations about the Zephyr – some of which are product issues, and others are political.

At £ 99.99, the Zephyr is more expensive than other masks, and a 10-filter pack (which Razer says should be changed every three days) costs £ 29.99. A reusable half-mask respirator, on the other hand, costs around £ 20, with filters costing around £ 8.

The mask is designed to be water resistant for small splashes, but not recommended for wet weather conditions, which is not ideal for the unpredictable weather of Britain; and removing the mask when wearing glasses and wireless headphones can turn into a battle to keep everything on your head, especially for those with longer hair, compared to a mask that hangs around the ears.

During testing, the mask’s companion app only worked when provided with location tracking information – deny that permission and it became unusable. A spokesperson for Razer said this was only used for beta testing and, when the mask becomes available, the app will not need location data to function.

A cloth mask, despite what the most wacky conspiracy theorists might believe, can’t keep up with you.

(Razer)

Then there are the problems of “culture war” around masks, which started early last year and still continues. As of July of this year, face masks were no longer made mandatory – instead became “matters of personal choice”. Health Secretary Sajid Javid urged his fellow Conservatives to wear masks in the crowded House of Commons, although it was noted that few MPs have been pictured in the House of Commons wearing masks.

Even when the pandemic passes, masks may become necessary to tackle pollution, but this political debate raged long before the spread of the coronavirus and will likely continue long afterward. In 2018, toxic air in the UK was considered a ‘national health emergency’, but two years later it was found that 60% of the population was living with air pollution above legal limits. Although “in general, the overall trends in air pollution are on the decline,” says Dr Loh, “there are areas where solving the problem may be more difficult, for example in areas with busy roads ”.

From an environmental standpoint, a long-term goggle like the Razer Zephyr can avoid millions of masks used and then thrown away every day and obstructing ocean ecosystems; but conversely, some researchers have said that it could encourage a false sense of security and that “once plugged masks are worse than useless”.

There is no doubt that the Zephyr is futuristic, but it remains to be seen whether this will be a future in the UK and there are many factors regarding cleanliness and maintenance that will have to take into account the masks of a way they’ve never done before. – even now.

The Zephyr itself looks like a product that would have been an ideal investment at the start of the lockdown, but the lack of restrictions and the feeling that the pandemic is over (despite the increase in cases) can hurt public interests.

In other countries, however, it may have a higher adoption rate. Many people wore N95 masks in China to protect themselves from air pollution, as it was more common and could become popular in heavily polluted parts of India (although the large disparity in wealth means many could not be able to purchase the Zephyr).

Razer’s approach appears to offer an option, not advice. The company says it wants to give users “as many choices as possible, including whether or not to wear a mask” to provide protection in “busy urban environments, and especially with the upcoming flu season.”

In the UK, “the problem of mask wear and infectious diseases will not go away,” predicts Dr Loh. “COVID is not going to go away and neither is the flu,” and an increase in phenomena like forest fires could also see “episodes of extremely high pollution where people would be advised to wear masks.”

If that happened, people might find new products like the Zephyr, and other masks like this, like a breath of fresh air.


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