The XPRIZE organization has announced a $1 million challenge aimed at engaging young people in the design of surgical-grade face masks for consumers.
The Next-Gen Mask Challenge invites innovators between the ages of 15 and 24 to reimagine mask design in ways that address barriers to their widespread adoption. Despite evidence showing that masks, when worn properly, can slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19, a third of the U.S. population refuses to wear one. The most common reasons for not wearing one cited by people responding to a survey by the XPRIZE organization were that they fog up glasses, get hot, are uncomfortable, cause breathing difficulties, make conversation and exercise challenging, prevent eating and drinking, cause pain or don't fit properly, block facial expressions, aren't eco-friendly, are ugly or boring, or are difficult to acquire.
Sponsored by Marc Benioff and Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC's Mad Money, the challenge will award a total of $1 million to a grand-prize winner and two additional teams and will connect them to rapid manufacturing opportunities. All designs must allow for scaled manufacturing and will be evaluated by the XPRIZE team, industry experts, and a panel of cultural ambassadors based on three criteria: filtration efficacy on par with a surgical mask; capacity to address at least five of the top ten reasons why people do not wear masks; and a style X-factor that promotes mask-wearing.
"Currently, we are experiencing a crisis within a crisis," said XPRIZE Foundation founder and executive chair Peter Diamandis. "Studies show that masks are effective in slowing and preventing the spread of COVID-19, yet even as cases surge a large number of individuals are still not adopting the preventive measure. We understand that masks can be ill-fitting, uncomfortable, unfashionable, and that the most effective masks are often unavailable or expensive for everyday people. We need an alternative; that's why XPRIZE is turning to the world's young innovators to help reinvent the face mask and create an accessible alternative that will help protect against the spread of COVID-19."
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