In response to the current shortage of N95 medical masks, new reusable masks for COVID-19 PPE are being developed all over the world. Some of these masks are bulky and can hinder communication by muffling the wearer’s voice, thus making it difficult for people to understand what a mask-wearer is saying. We are currently working on a solution to this problem with Dr. Prakash’s lab at Stanford, creators of the Pneumask, a reusable mask adapted from commonly found scuba masks.
What it does
Our solution involves a smartphone app (currently available in Android) and a Bluetooth device that can act as a microphone. Audio input from the Bluetooth microphone is relayed by the smartphone to either the phone’s speakers or an external speaker system. Instructions for app download and usage can be found here
How we built it
We prototyped the first version of the Android app within 48 hours, and had it tested by people in the Prakash Lab with their snorkel mask (Pneumask). During this hackathon, we iterated on the app, adding UI features to indicate Bluetooth and Recording status. We also added Firebase Crash Analytics functionality, to report when the app crashes, and give us information for debugging. We have published our app to the Google Play Store, and we have published a beta version for testing new features as well.
In order to make sure the app is robust and has the desired functionality, we have set up user testing protocols, and are collecting responses from people with different smartphones, software versions, and Bluetooth devices. We have one user testing form for clinicians and another for non-clinicians.
Challenges we ran into
We faced some significant challenges when developing an iOS version of this app. We worked with an iOS development engineer from Apple, and discovered that it might not be possible to route input from a Bluetooth microphone to built-in speakers. We are open to suggestions for other solutions. The barrier to iOS development would restrict accessibility of this app to doctors who have access to Android devices.
Another challenge we currently face, is evaluating how different smartphone hardware from different producers can redirect sound in different ways. Once we determine the software settings that need to be changed for different devices, we should be releasing an updated version of the app that has different settings based on what phone model the user has.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
Over the past few weeks, we learned how to make an Android app from scratch and successfully developed a working prototype. We have gathered support from our own networks to seek help from different people for app development and user testing. Additionally, we are soliciting feedback from clinicians, so that we can co-design a solution for facilitated communication together.
We will continue improving the Android app to make sure it will work with different Android versions and devices. We are conducting user testing with volunteers, doctors and healthcare workers to get feedback from them and to test our app's usability. Once the app is robust, we will seek additional resources and publicity for distributing this solution.