Anti-Pollution Scarf?

Yet another product at CES 2017, Wair – The First Anti Pollution Scarf.   Basically, an air filter mask, with fashion accessory. It is supposed to help you live healthy and worry less about pollution.

The main selling point is that it is fashionable. I am certainly willing to grant that these young French women and men grok fashion. There are plenty of air masks available, but most of them don’t look, well, so Parisian.

My first question was, why is that at CES? What is electronic about it? (My French is very weak, I apologize if I’ve misunderstood something.)

I think the mask has a small electric fan to force air in and out. Whether there is sensing or computation in the mask, I can’t tell.

The main gadget seems to be an app that comes with the gear.

“The SUPAIRMAN app, the personnal assitant who helps you living better in the city” (sic)

As far as I can tell, this app uses GPS and some kind of real time pollution reports to estimate your current exposure. It can advise on alternate routes (should any exist), and warn you to “suit up” if the air is bad.   The app also tells you when it is time to swap the filters.

I am always happy to see wearable technology that is both functional and fashionable. And, I already indicated, I’d choose French fashion if I could.

Unfortunately, this product seems problematic on several grounds.

First of all, despite the stated intentions, this device scarcely addresses air pollution. It might or might not ease your mind a bit, but it certainly isn’t fixing the problem. I also wonder just what levels of pollution it can really handle, and what you may encounter. For example, would this do anything useful on China’s worst days? Or in a dust storm in Teheran?

Personally, I’m more interested in cleaning up the air, not in easing my mind about the problem.

Second, the app itself seems dubious to me. Unless there is really, really fine grained data available (10s of meter resolution), then the advice is so generic that you hardly need the app. (I have complained about other urban sensing apps.)

For instance, the promotional videos show people bicycling in traffic with buses—does the app tell you to put on the mask when you are 10 meters or less behind a bus or truck? If should, but I bet it doesn’t.

For that matter, unless the environmental data is actually measuring the pollutants filtered by the mask, then the advice is misleading. Maybe they have very detailed real time air quality data in France, I don’t know. But without it, the app is just a generic weather report.

For that matter, I’d like to know that the filter mask actually does something meaningful. It looks very impressive, but is it really removing enough pollutants to matter? I’m sure that pollution is bad for me, but I’m not sure that sometimes wearing a filter mask has much effect on the harm. Indeed, false confidence in a mask may be dangerous, if people go outside on a bad day, incorrectly assuming the mask will protect them for what is actually in the air today.

My mind will be eased only by evidence that the app is actually providing valid and relevant information, and that the mask itself is actually effective against what is really in the air.

Finally, I’m extremely concerned about the political viability covering your face. A lot of places prohibit face masks for security reasons, and I would think that French folks might be nervous about people in masks. Considering how freaked out some people get about “Islamic” head scarves, there may be serious social problems in store for this product.

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