This Company's Custom-Printed Surgical Masks Started as a Joke, But They Might Have Real Value
With coronavirus dominating headlines and flu season wreaking its usual havoc in the U.S., surgical masks have been in the news lately. A company called Resting Risk Face is launching surgical masks custom-printed with your face on them, so you can unlock your phone without removing the mask. The idea started as sort of a joke—and the company might not even actually make the masks available—but it might actually have some real value.
We'll get to that in a minute, but let’s take a look at how this all started.
Danielle Baskin, the woman behind the masks, is a “product designer, situation designer, visual artist and the CEO of Dialup, a voice-based social network” according to her website. She recently shared the idea for the masks on her Twitter page:
Made this service that prints your face on an N95 mask, so you can protect people from viral epidemics while still being able to unlock your phone.
— Danielle (@djbaskin) February 15, 2020
The New York Post has a deeper look at the various facial-recognition phone-unlocking processes, which explains why there might be a need for the masks:
Not all face unlocking systems are made equal. Android phones used 2-D face unlock for several years, which is the kind of face unlock system that you can trick with a photo. Printing the lower region of your face on the face mask will probably be enough to bypass phones that use that less-than-secure 2-D face unlock technology. 2-D face recognition is not safe to use with banking apps and other sensitive services.
Apple came up with 3-D face unlock a few years ago and called it Face ID. The system maps the 3-D layout of your face with the help of a sophisticated camera module while simultaneously checking for your attention (eyes open or closed) to unlock an iPhone or iPad. Others have tried to replicate Face ID, including Huawei, Xiaomi and LG, but only a few phones have 3-D face recognition hardware. Google then added support for 3-D face recognition to Android with the release of the Pixel 4. You can see just how complex Apple’s Face ID is below:
Face ID users might already know that Face ID can quickly adapt to headgear, including hats and eyewear. The iPhone or iPad Pro will still unlock even if you’re wearing an unusual hat or have different glasses on. However, if a part of your face is covered by a somewhat large object, like a scarf or an N95 protection mask, it will fail to identify the 3-D profile of your face and it won’t unlock your iPhone.
Baskin followed up with another tweet and explained that she’s testing out facial recognition.
To everyone asking: I'm testing the facial recognition reliability across devices. But what if you just want to be recognized by your friends?
— Danielle (@djbaskin) February 16, 2020
How this would work is through three simple steps, which are posted on the Resting Risk Face website: No. 1, you’d upload your face using their web app. No. 2, you’d be able to preview and then adjust the mask on your face and fix anything that looks wrong. And No. 3, the company prints your face on the mask. Seems pretty straightforward.
The website mentions in the fine print that the surgical masks haven’t launched yet, but if they do go into production, the masks would retail for $40 each.
The idea here is interesting, especially in its use of custom printing, though it stops short of being revolutionary. Mask or no mask, if your phone can't recognize your face to unlock, you can always just type in the passcode. That may make the $40 asking price a bit steep for something that saves only minimal effort.
But Baskin's idea might have real value outside of gimmicky smartphone tech. One Twitter user commented on Baskin's post explaining how the idea has huge potential in hospitals and other medical facilities.
“It is very much not a joke,” Twitter user @ArtistDominic wrote. “If you want to bridge this into hospital and patient care-- there's a need for this. I made some rudimentary masks years back to cut the tension for chronically ill PTs in isolation. And especially in children's hosp. Well Done.”
It is very much not a joke. If you want to bridge this into hospital and patient care-- there's a need for this. I made some rudimentary masks years back to cut the tension for chronically ill PTs in isolation. And especially in children's hosp.
— ArtistDominic (@ArtistDominic) February 16, 2020
Doctors or medical personnel who are required to wear surgical masks could have their faces printed on their masks, potentially making the experience less scary for patients, especially younger ones. That could certainly have appeal for hospital customers and the medical market in general.
It's worth noting that Baskin already has ties to the promotional market. We previously wrote about how companies like Lyft and AT&T are giving out branded fruit at events. Baskin's company, Branded Fruit, is behind that. Who knows, maybe she'll see the connection for the masks in promo.