New Zealand-based tech startup Ao Air is looking for investors to set up a manufacturing plant in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) for an alternative to traditional N95 surgical face mask.
Masks are out of supply in the market globally due to coronavirus pandemic and N95 mask, which usually costs less than $1, are sold in the grey market for more than $7.
Ao Air’s Atmos face mask is a tech-driven and patented technology to protect from air pollution, airborne pathogens and illnesses.
“We are in the process of having discussions in the Middle East for a manufacturing plant, especially in the GCC, and use it as a launch market. Alternatively, we are also having discussions with China and the US. We are looking for a capital partner to set up a plant in the GCC,” Dan Bowden, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ao Air, told TechRadar Middle East.
The battery-operated device is manufactured in South Korea but due to Covid-19, the manufacturing process has slowed down drastically and Ao Air has to change its plans.
Moreover, he said that they are receiving significant interest from regional healthcare providers and consumers for the mask.
“We had around 20 distributor enquiries from the Middle East, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, for the mask. We cannot keep up with the demand from investor and personal enquiries due to Covid-19,” he said.
“Several of the Gulf countries have emerged as global leaders in medical technology innovation in response to the coronavirus crisis. As Covid-19 cases and deaths rise globally, a surge in demand for medical masks is highlighting the need for innovation in respiratory technology,” he said.
Patented nanofiltration process
Even though the company claims that its face mask offers 25 times better protection than N95 masks, Bowden does not claim protection over Covid-19.
With the World Health Organisation (WHO) encouraging the use of masks by the public to counter coronavirus spread, governments have mandated protective masks be worn in public and the company is trying to cash in on the growing demand for masks.
“We have tested against N95 mask and when tested against 0.3 microns, our device is 25 times better than N95,” he said.
The company claims that its respiratory technology is validated by New Zealand’s Auckland University of Technology to provide users with up to 50 times better protection than others in the market.
“Traditional mask needs a filter to clean the outside air to breath and a tight seal around the mouth and the nose. The problem is that the filter is easy to do but a tight seal around the mouth and nose is very difficult. If you have facial hair, you will not get a tight seal with N95 and the bad air goes inside.
“What our personal device is doing is that it does not need a seal. It has a nanofibre that cleans the air using our patented nanofiltration process and the fan pushes the air in front of the face so that users don’t need a tight seal around the mouth and the nose,” he said.
When the product was launched in January this year, it was targeted at consumers but now things have changed due to the pandemic.
Bowden said that they are in the process of getting approvals from governments around the world to make it a certified product.
“In future, it will be a certified product against N95 but it is not yet certified for healthcare segment,” he said.
Awaits FDA’s approval
The company got 1,500 online preorders since January and is completely sold out.
“We have got enquiries for 500,000 units globally,” Bowden said. It weighs 270 grams and is priced at $350.
He said the battery on the device works for five hours with a single charge and the corresponding app shows the air quality around you, lets users know when they need to change the filter and gives a few insights into the respiratory system
“We are looking to evolve the product and doing the final investigation to give it anti-viral protection.
Three months ago, FDA approvals usually take a year and now we are talking about months for getting approvals and we are also fast-tracking our business. We are looking to get approvals from FDA within the next six months,” he said.
Bowden sees the US to be the biggest market for them followed by the Middle East, due to its hot, humid and dusty environment.
Even when Covid-19 is over, he still expects to see a huge demand for masks as social distancing is expected to continue.