Will.i.am Is Bringing the 'Future Now' with New Face Mask: 'It's Something from a Sci-Fi Film'
The Black Eyed Peas frontman, 46, is teaming up with costume designer Jose Fernandez and engineering company Honeywell for the creation of Xupermask — a high-tech take on protective face coverings. The main features of the HEPA-filtered design help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and unwelcome sound with its noise canceling audio and microphone capabilities.
The Voice UK coach tells PEOPLE that the idea to create the Xupermask was inspired by the small day-to-day annoyances that can arise when wearing a mask, like foggy glasses and muffled phone conversations.
"I thought about all the pain points that people have with masks and earbuds and how earbuds were not designed to pick up the voice of people that have fabric in front of their mouth," Will.i.am tells PEOPLE. "People have to take the mask off and put themselves at risk. [With Xupermask], you could literally whisper on a bike on a Zoom, and they hear you perfectly fine because we block off the wind and we block out the noise and block out the germs."
The Xupermask uses three dual speed fans and features a Honeywell-patented High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtration system and filtered port. Aside from its protective aspects, the mask also has Bluetooth connectivity, LED day glow lights, multi-functioning button controls and a magnetic earbud docking system which is all powered by a 7-hour battery.
While the Xupermask looks like something out of Blade Runner or CyberPunk 2077, it retails for $299 and each purchase comes with a carrying case, three months-worth of filters and a charging cable. The songwriter shares that the target consumer was originally the "sneaker head."
"We designed it for that perspective of collecting and 'drop culture,'" says Will.i.am. "It's for that collector, that traveler. The price point is not astronomical....within the same price or just a little above AirPod Pros."
The rapper says while he needed the design of the mask to be useful and protective, he also wanted it to look like something from a science fiction fantasy land. To achieve that, he knew the exact man for the job: Jose Fernandez. When the Black Eyed Peas were set to perform at the 2011 Super Bowl halftime show, they called upon Fernandez to help them bring the futuristic aesthetics of their The E.N.D and The Beginning eras to life.
The designer also worked with Will.i.am for a Beats headphones collaboration in 2012 and "The Hardest Ever" music video featuring Jennifer Lopez and Mick Jagger in 2011. In addition, he helped create the iconic costumes of Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Wonder Woman, Thor and Black Panther to name a few.
"Jose was my go-to person for anything future pushing," says Will.i.am. "When it was time to make this product, I would say, 'Let's make something that actually has functionality but then also looks like it's something that came out of a sci-fi film. Let's bring the future now.'"
The sleek appearance of the mask is constructed out of medical-grade silicone and enclosed by an elastic strap for comfort. Xupermask comes in black with orange accents or white with gray and orange accents.
For Will.i.am, seeing the Xupermask ready to hit the market makes him think back to his younger self, a boy who came from the projects of Los Angeles and the inspiration his story can give others.
"When I look at [Xupermask] I think of the younger version of myself in the projects on a bike and that little boy grew up to create a company that did that," says Will.i.am. "I think about the young boys and young girls that are in the hood right now, that need that push of encouragement to say, 'Hey you can dream down this path and solve problems to attack.'"
He shares that having the opportunity to collaborate with another person of color on the design to bring this product to life gives him hope and encouragement for the future of diversity in tech.
"When I see this product, this is the beginning of a whole new fleet of innovators and thinkers and makers that are going to just imagine awesome stuff because there's not that many Black entrepreneurs in tech and there should be an army of them. It should be Black and brown folks that are creating algorithms and training data as well and this is the beginning of that."
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