COVID-19 News

Veterans Affairs team designs "Clear Talker" COVID-19 face mask

A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) research team in Richmond, Virginia, has invented a novel face mask using a transparent shield with filtered vents.

The inventors of the Clear Talker mask are Seth Hills, Brian Burkhardt, Melissa Oliver, and John Miller at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center’s Assistive Technology program.

The see-through mask allows accurate communication via lip reading, facial expressions, and visually apparent emotions. It allows air to flow through four vents with replaceable filters that can be swapped at the end of their functional life or changed to address specific particle filtering concerns. The vents face down to help keep the warm air from fogging the user’s eyeglasses.

The novel design is meant to be an alternative option to the now-common surgical mask used by the public to limit the airborne spread of the COVID-19 virus. Similar clear face masks have previously been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for over-the-counter use.

Face masks got a plug from Dr. Robert Redfield on September 16, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director held up a face mask during his testimony on COVID-19 vaccine development to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill.

“I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine,” Redfield said.

Tech Transfer Licensing Opportunity

The VA submitted a provisional patent application for the new mask with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on September 16 in the afternoon. By the next morning the VA’s tech transfer office was ready to out-license the patent-pending mask to a private company that can manufacture it for widespread availability, said Jonathan Baker, a senior technology manager at TechLink.

The not-for-profit TechLink is the VA’s national partnership intermediary for technology transfer, helping companies discover, review, and license inventions from the VA’s large patent portfolio.

“There’s been a lot of design work in this area over the last six months but this mask has some unique features that can make it a first-in-class product in this space,” Baker said. “We’re hoping to move fast on licensing this so it can get out to the public ASAP.”

Read more: