Teams collaborate to design new masks

Jennifer Stultz

WICHITA — Three Wichita State University alumni are in the running to win $1 million as part the Next-Gen Mask Challenge sponsored by XPrize. They were chosen one of only 25 finalists from a field of 1,000 teams from 30 countries.

Spencer Steinert, Jared Goering and Maggie Koops — all recent graduates of Wichita State’s Master of Innovation Design program — teamed up to for the Cyfive apparel company to address a challenge created by XPrize: to craft a face mask addressing the obstacles that deter people from wearing them and promote positive mask-wearing behavior.

“We are in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis,” said Peter H. Diamandis, Xprize founder and executive chairman. “We know that wearing a mask is an effective way to curtail the spread of COVID-19, yet many find masks undesirable for many reasons, from comfort to fashion. The mission of the Next-Gen Mask Challenge is to resolve this situation, to drive innovation that results in a new generation of masks that are comfortable, safe, fashionable and ultimately desirable, encouraging mask wearing behavior. Thus far, we’ve been so impressed with what our competing teams have developed. Our next step is to connect these teams with our ecosystem manufacturing partners who will provide mentorship, resources and guidance.”

“We thought it was a great opportunity to jump in and apply some of our expertise, technology, innovation and material science that we'd become aware of when we were at school and then take that out of the lab and into the real world,” Goering said.

XPrize surveyed thousands of people and came up with the top 10 reasons that people don’t like wearing face masks. They then offered those results to teams who wanted to create a very user-centered approach to design an efficient mask.

Steinert and Goering (who both work at The Wonder School) have been friends since they were in second grade, and they met Maggie (an aerospace engineer and lead 3D modelist at Cyfive) while they were students at Wichita State. This isn’t the first project the trio has collaborated on.

Xprize will announce the winners of the Next-Gen Mask Challenge in November.