Canadian start-up develops face-matching anti-pollution mask for China market

The anti-pollution device was modelled on research from Polytechnic University that provided specifications for the average face shape in China

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 November, 2015, 2:35pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 November, 2015, 2:35pm

A visit to a smoggy Tiananmen Square in Beijing served as the inspiration behind a Canadian start-up’s anti-pollution mask designed for the Chinese market.

O2 Canada was founded by University of Waterloo graduates as a more fashionable and more effective way for people to protect themselves from pollutants in the air.

“When we look at the current [masks], our studies in the lab have shown that these are not only very ugly but they’re also ineffective,” said Peter Whitby, chief executive officer of O2 Canada. “Air pollution is like water, it takes the path of least resistance so these nano pollutants find gaps and will enter the human body.”

The start-up is working with the university’s pollution expert, professor Zhongchao Tan, to develop biodegradable filters that it plans to license exclusively.

One of the features of the mask is how it forms a seal and does not allow pollutants to slip past the filters, however, after designing a prototype to fit a Caucasian face, the founders realised it was not suitable for the Asia face shape in their target market in China.

To overcome this, the start-up turned to research from Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University which had mapped 10,000 Chinese faces to create the average male and female facial features.

The O2 Canada mask works alongside an app warning users when particulate levels are high enough to demand protection as well as when to change the filters.

O2 Canada has launched a pre-order campaign on its website with masks priced at US$48. It plans to ship the product early next year.

The University of Waterloo was in Hong Kong to share the story of its start-ups at Cyberport. The university prides itself on nurturing entrepreneurship and has seen its students and graduates find success with the chat app Kik and logistics company BufferBox, which was acquired by Google in 2012.

Waterloo is also home to troubled smartphone maker Blackberry. Blackberry’s problems have proven beneficial to start-ups in the area as technology-savvy staff were let go by the company.

One firms to benefit from the exodus of developers from Blackberry is Thalmic Labs, the creators of an arm band which turns gestures into commands to direct drones, presentations or video games. Thalamic labs was also formed by University of Waterloo graduates.

The Myo band reads electrical impulses in the arm and turns these into commands read by a computer.

Myo was designed as an alternative way to interact directly with technology as its founders wanted to develop an alternative to the mouse and keyboard.

“We’re trying to solve the problem of how we build interfaces and how people will interact with the technology of the future,” said Aaron Grant, co-founder of Thalamic Labs.