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Max Melia with wearable device

Teen inventor creates wearable device to prevent Covid-19 spread

Image credit: Max Melia

A 15-year-old school student from Bristol has developed a wearable device to encourage people to stop touching their face - one of the recommended behaviours to help prevent viral spread.

Max Melia started working on the concept for the device two years ago, concerned with preventing the spread of the common cold and flu. The device, called 'VybPro', is a wristband which vibrates to warn wearers every time they are about to touch their face.

The device can be worn on both wrists and combines “position-sending technology” with algorithms which distinguish between the motions of face touching and other, less risky hand motions.

Touching the face – specifically the eyes, nose and mouth – can transfer pathogens picked up from contaminated surfaces by the hands to the throat and lungs, causing infection. A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Infection Control estimates that people touch their faces more than 20 times per hour on average, with contact with the eyes, nose and mouth occurring in almost half of instances.

Melia set about developing the device in earnest after both his parents contracted Covid-19 – while they recovered, his father has scarring in his lung tissue from the disease – and after being sent home from school due to the national lockdown.

Melia has now launched a Kickstarter campaign, aiming to raise the £60,000 necessary to make the VybPro a practical reality. He has raised £16,000 in the first week of the crowdfunding campaign.

“I thought it was time to step in with a product and take initiative to hopefully get it out there and keep a lot of people safe in these difficult times,” Melia told the PA News Agency. He added that he is not interested in making money, but wants to “get it onto the wrists of those it can help keep safe”.

All early profits from the sale of the device will be used to provide free devices to care homes and health staff, he promised. He aims to manufacture the design in the UK and sell it for around £89.99 for a pair of the wristbands.

Increasingly, governments and businesses are looking to wearable devices to limit the transmission of the novel coronavirus between people where social distancing is not possible. For instance, the Singaporean government is considering providing every citizen with a wearable Bluetooth device which could help track the transmission of the virus, while devices like IK Multimedia’s 'SafeSpacer' could – if worn by a sufficient fraction of people within an area – remind wearers to adhere to social distancing.

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