Phase 1 of the Respirator Fit Evaluation Challenge has officially closed, marking an important milestone in the multi-phase prize competition. The Challenge is a collaboration between the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Tournament Lab seeking to improve respirator fit testing practices and offering $350,000 in total prize money for novel solutions.
Fit testing is a critical component of respiratory protection, ensuring that workers who wear respirators receive the expected level of protection. However, research has shown that small or disadvantaged workplaces may not have the resources to conduct initial and annual respirator fit testing. Additionally, with the rise in the use of tight-fitting respirators, such as N95® filtering facepiece respirators, by the public for protection from infectious diseases, pollution, or wildfire smoke, there is a growing need for immediate information on the respirator’s fit.
To compete in Phase 1 of the Challenge, participants were required to submit a 10-page concept paper that outlined an idea to improve respirator fit testing. NIOSH selected 20 winners who each received $5,000 for their Phase 1 winning submissions. In Phase 2, teams will design prototypes based on their Phase 1 submissions. Phase 2 is set to begin in August 2023, with Phase 2 winners being announced in March 2024. Up to 10 teams will be chosen as Phase 2 winners, and they will receive a portion of the $100,000 Phase 2 Prize purse to support the development of pre-production prototypes for NIOSH evaluation during Phase 3.
Phase 1 submissions included a diverse range of solution concepts including technologies such as Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), infrared imagery and thermal monitoring, fabric-based sensor networks, light sensing (LED), and an app that will combine AI with facial recognition. Phase 1 winners include OpenAeros LLC, MyMaskMovement, and Lex Schultheis of the Robert E. Fischell Institute for Biomedical Devices at the University of Maryland.
The Respirator Fit Evaluation Challenge is an excellent example of how crowdsourcing and collaboration can accelerate innovation and lead to practical solutions to real-world problems. We look forward to seeing the results of Phase 2 and the impact that the winning solutions will have on respiratory protection.
To learn more about the Phase 1 Challenge winners, please visit the Challenge website.
For more information about NIOSH, visit www.cdc.gov/niosh/.
For more information about NASA Tournament Lab, visit https://www.nasa.gov/coeci/ntl