Communicating with another person while wearing a mask can be uncomfortable. Studies confirmed that masks can muffle one’s speech, making it harder for the other person to hear. For people who are hard of hearing, the words sound very faint or inaudible.
In such situations, I have noticed family members, friends, and strangers, pull down their mask to speak, which defeats the purpose of the mask.
Kevin Jacob (19), a resident of Thrissur, Kerala, realised his doctor parents faced the same struggle.
“Both of them work at the Metropolitan hospital, and at the end of each day, they would come home with a sore throat. While speaking to patients, they would have to raise their voices because of the N95 mask and face shields worn during duty,” says Kevin, who thought of a simple solution to solve their problem – a mask that amplifies their voice.
In October 2020, he developed a prototype of a mask fitted with a mic and speakers that will amplify the user’s voice while speaking without having to strain one’s vocal cords.
In an interview with The Better India, Kevin explains how he made the mask and shares how it has benefitted frontline workers.
A quick solution
Kevin is a first-year student of Computer Science engineering at Thrissur Government College. In June 2020, he stumbled upon the news of a smart mask that can amplify one’s voice while speaking. However, it was too expensive and he could not afford it.
“So, I thought of making my version of the same for my parents. When I looked online for miniature mics and speakers, they were either too heavy to be placed on a mask, or too expensive,” says Kevin, adding that a 3D-printer he made in class 8 to design the amplifying device and its parts.
By referring to research papers online and watching several videos on YouTube, Kevin recreated the speakers, and a mic using the 3D-printer. He even made the circuit boards that provided charging facilities for the device.
Instead of tampering with the mask’s material to fix the amplifier, Kevin fitted double-sided, strong magnets, which hold the amplifier and mic in place.
However, he says it was not an easy task. He had to make two versions because the first received negative feedback from doctors regarding the quality of the sound. So, by making some modifications to the circuit and altering the casing of the amplifiers, he was able to perfect the device.
“The final version is 6.3 cms long, 3 cm wide, and 0.5 cms thick. It can be charged using a micro USB cable, and takes up to 45 mins to fully charge,” says Kevin.
The mic is placed on the mask, while the speaker and amplifier (a single unit) is placed over a face shield. If the user is wearing only the mask, the mic can be placed on one side and the amplifier on the other.
“The two are connected by a small wire,” says Kevin.
Benefitting frontline workers
Once the final prototype was ready, Kevin’s parents – Jyoti Mary Jose and Senjoy KC, wore them to work every day. They even referred the product to their friends who were working at other hospitals.
As the word spread through extended circles, Kevin received more orders and has made 50 devices for frontline workers in various cities, including Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode.
Doctor Sareena Gilvaz, the head of the Gynecology department in Jubilee Mission Medical College in Thrissur, heard about Kevin’s device for masks through the medical fraternity WhatsApp group. She purchased one from him for Rs 900 and says it has changed the way she interacts with patients.
She says, “I see more than 100 outpatients every day. It was difficult to speak to them wearing an N95 mask and a face shield. I would have to raise my voice as they could not hear me over the gear and I would get a sore throat. However, this amplifier has changed that completely. I wear it from 9 am to 4 pm and charge it during my lunch and coffee breaks. Even patients have shown interest in the device as they can hear what the other person is saying clearly.”
In January 2021, Kevin’s innovation was selected as the best project in DARSANA ignite, an event organised by the alumni association of NSS Engineering College, Palakkad.
Currently, Kevin is not making any more devices as he wishes to focus on his studies. However, he is looking forward to transferring the technology to someone who can help him manufacture the devices on an industrial scale.
To know more or to get in touch with Kevin, you can send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.