A David Byrne Breakthrough?

Surely you remember the groundbreaking band Talking Heads. NIOSH and collaborators have created a "talking head" for respirator fit research.

NIOSH's National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory worked with Air Force Research Laboratory and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop a "talking head" for respirator fit research, the safety agency announced. It's a robotic manikin headform expected to further research into respirator inward leakage, potentially leading to safer work for millions.

NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory worked with Air Force Research Laboratory and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop the NIOSH reported it used the measurements of 3,997 individuals, 1,013 of whom had their facial measurements taken with a laser scanner, to create five digital headform sizes. The talking head was built by Hanson Robotics, Inc., and "performs head movements, as well as the lip and jaw movements of speech, in order to simulate the exercises a worker performs during a respirator fit test. In fact, researchers have engineered a way for them to recite the 'rainbow passage,' a poetic string of words describing prisms of light and a pot of gold that models all possible movements of the human mouth. This simulated speech allows for researchers to test how well respirators fit to a face that moves and speaks, potentially affecting ultimate fit," according to NIOSH's news release.

"Over five million Americans are required to wear respirators in their workplace," NPPTL Director Dr. Maryann D'Alessandro said. "The talking head is an innovative scientific advance that offers transformational promise to better understanding respiratory protection and respirator fit for an increasingly diverse workforce."

Fans of the "Alien" movie series will appreciate that the head is lifelike and covered in silicone elastomer artificial skin, which stretches akin to human skin. The material is porous and "has specified tissue depths for different locations of the face, similar to the inner workings of the human face," according to NIOSH. Its benefits are obvious to Dr. Ziqing Zhuang, Ph.D., a research team leader at NIOSH: It doesn't require human subject review board clearance and does not gain weight or experience fatigue.

"The talking head will be used to research potential respirator leakage using biological aerosols such as the HIN1 influenza," Zhuang said. "Development of this robotic headform was needed for these types of studies because older type headforms, which usually had hard surfaces or were covered only with a thin skin of plastic or rubber, could not form a good respirator seal to the face."

The release said NIOSH will concentrate its research with the head on certified N95 filtering facepiece respirators initially.

Click here for a video of the talking head.

To watch a video of the Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime," click here.

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