An Auckland air purifying start-up says its masks could protect firefighters and emergency personnel dealing with bushfires such as those ravaging parts of Australia.
Ao Air, which creates high-tech pollution protection masks that claim to be 50 times more effective than typical surgical-style face masks, says its technology could be used in the months to come for those tasked with the clean-up following the fires.
Dan Bowden, co-founder and chief executive of Ao Air, said the company wanted to supply emergency services and those charged with the clean-up with masks for protection, but currently did not have any strategies in place to do so due to limited inventory as the product is not yet being mass-produced.
Bowden said the six week clean-up efforts after significant fires are the most hazardous to health, with emergency services going through property that had burnt down and asbestos in 1960s houses during hot, humid conditions a significant hazard.
First responders and those tasked with the clean-up "deserved a better solution" to face masks currently available, he said.
"Because we don't have the product in hand, it is not something I can directly address just yet," Bowden told the Herald, from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
"I'd like to find some way of doing it with whatever resources we can get."
If Ao Air was not able to help with the current bushfires, Bowden said it hoped the technology would be deployed to teams tending to the aftermath of any significant fires that happen in the future.
"Climate change is only getting worse, it's a climate crisis. We're seeing these wildfires happen more and more regularly from the Amazon to California to Australia, the conditions are going to get worse unless we all do something about. We expect it will happen again, and we want to help, and that's why we're so passionate about this also being a vehicle for longer-term change.
"If we can start to put the device into the hands of polluters around the world and use that to collect pollution data ... then we can identify polluters and things to improve these situations."
Ao Air came about at the end of 2016 with the intention to create a solution to air pollution, it began developing its mask concept in 2014. As well as filtering out toxins in the air, the mask measures the level of pollution and respiration rates and volumes.
Ao Air's mask costs $530 (US$350) and pre-order sales began on January 7.
The pollution protection device was tested at Auckland University and was found to be 50 times more effective than other face masks on the market, he said.
So far, orders had been placed from Poland, Argentina, Asia and a couple from Australia, he said. The company had received a lot of interest from South Korea and Seoul, which Bowden said gets all of the pollution from the Gobi desert and Chinese factories.
He said the company operated on a "Tesla business model", Bowden said, seeking to create a model of masks for the consumer, industrial and healthcare markets.
"We want to give people air quality that is as good as we get in New Zealand, but also, we want Ao Air to be a platform for change - more than just sticking a plaster over the issue."
Ao Air has manufactured 100 devices so far, and wants to produce a further 5000 this year.