Entertainer and entrepreneur Will.i.am of music group Black Eyed Peas introduces his newest tech innovation today: Xupermask.
Pronounced “supermask,” the product is made in partnership with technology and manufacturing company Honeywell International. Will.i.am remembered the exact date the idea came to him, he said, chatting from his hometown of Los Angeles via video call.
“March 12, 2020, I was in London, feeling a little anxious getting on an airplane to come back to America and worried about when I’ll be able to come back to the U.K., because I work there,” he recalled. Along with being a producer and songwriter, Will.i.am — born William Adams — is a celebrity judge on TV singing competition “The Voice UK.” He’s also the founder of i.am+, an L.A.-based technology company.
“I said, ‘Hey, we need to make a mask that is equipped with filters’ — of course, both inhaling and exhaling and air circulation, so that when you’re wearing the mask you don’t feel claustrophobic, especially when we have our silicone seal that allows you to wear glasses and not have to worry about your glasses fogging up,” he continued.
The wearable face technology, launching April 8, is made using medical-grade silicone and an adjustable elastic strap, featuring three dual-speed fans and a Honeywell-created filtration system (“High-efficiency Particulate Arresting”), plus noise-canceling audio, a microphone, a magnetic earbud docking system, Bluetooth connectivity and a seven-hour battery. Produced in two colors and sizes, Xupermask retails for $299 and will be available in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and E.U. at Xupermask.com.
The first prototype was made on April 20 of last year. By June, the second build was complete, and Honeywell came into the picture in August.
“They’re one of the biggest manufacturers of N95s, so when they saw the tech and verified and validated our efforts to solve this problem, they came on board and helped us innovate and fine-tune the filters,” Will.i.am said.
He worked with an international team of collaborators, which he “funds,” he said, some based locally in Burbank, Calif. and others abroad: “We have teams in India and Shenzhen. I worked a lot out of the U.K. as well…It was an amazing, beautiful collaboration, because everyone was racing to solve the problem. Everyone was trying to solve the problem to give people peace of mind. And when you have people working on a product that is to give people peace of mind, it brings about a different energy and that energy is, you know, caring for people.”
The product offers newness as consumers adjust to COVID-19, its impact on everyday life today and moving forward. While the price point might prove prohibitive for some, especially when compared to the myriad cloth or disposable options available in the market, Xupermask may fill that void for those with the means or need to travel who are looking for a more reliable mask option.
During the pandemic, “people just didn’t want to wear a regular mask,” Will.i.am went on. “They put scarves on their face, bandanas on their face. But here we have a robust mask that still gives you that sneaker cool, street edge that goes hand in hand with the sneaker mentality. The sneaker drop, the expressive collaboration design that lends itself to collaborate with other fashion houses down the road.”
He hopes to do just that, collaborate with fashion companies on future mask launches.
Speaking on the lack of funding for Black entrepreneurs in tech, he said: “That breaks my heart, that people of color, when it comes to tech companies, we don’t have our Silicon Valley. But when you think of communities like Shenzhen in China that came out of nowhere…Now it’s a booming city that makes everything. So, if it can happen in Shenzhen, it could happen in Mississippi. It could happen in Atlanta. It could happen in [L.A.’s] Watts.”
Through his i.am Angel Foundation, Will.i.am offers STEM education to kids in underserved L.A. communities.
“I think primarily the reason why we don’t see that is because people in the inner city and Black communities, there’s no one in tech that looks like them for them to follow suit,” he continued. “And so [with] this collaboration — Honeywell is one of the biggest companies in the world — kids in inner cities, the dreamers of tomorrow, the ones that are going to create the jobs of tomorrow, they know what’s possible now.”