Masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 range have evolved from protection to a fashion statement. Now Razer is taking it a step further with Project Hazel, a voice-amplified RGB mask it’s announcing at CES 2021. Yes, RGB.
In March 2020, Razer announced that it would convert some of its manufacturing lines to develop certified surgical-grade masks to help fight the spread of coronavirus, and company executives said they’ve already manufactured a million masks. “And as a natural progression, the evolution of this initiative, we wanted to test our team with looking at developing a new mask, something designed from the ground up for the new normal,” said Mike Scharnikow, a senior marketing manager at Razer.
That mask is known as Project Hazel, a prototype that Razer hasn’t definitely committed to manufacture quite yet—but does have prototypes that were shown on a Razer presentation livestreamed from CES. Scharnikow called it “the world’s smartest mask,” one designed to address the increased emphasis on hygiene and the environmental issues of disposing masks, while also enhancing the features of a multi-use personal face covering.
Razer also showed off Project Brooklyn, a conceptual gaming chair with a retractable panoramic screen that folds back into the chair itself. The chair features a tray to hold a console or a laptop, as well as cubbies built into the armrest to hold peripherals.
Project Hazel: Razer’s RGB N95 mask for the new normal
The recyclable Project Hazel mask features a transparent external face shield as well as a flexible silicone lining that conforms to the user’s face and mouth. On each side of the face, a pair of replaceable N95 “smart pods” will provide filtration capabilities. Razer designed the vents as an active ventilation systems, with the ability to control the airflow in and out of the mask, Scharnikow said.
And it’s the transparent face shield that points to one of the problems that Razer is trying to solve: the limits on social interaction of wearing a mask. The transparent face shield was designed to allow people you’re talking with to be able to see your facial expression, as well as to allow those who can read lips to be able to see your mouth. Razer has also gone further: inside the mask, subtle LED lights illuminate your mouth at night, too.
Did Razer stop there? Oh no. “One of the biggest issues we also know beyond the visual piece with wearing a mask is the muffled talking and the limits on communication this creates,” Scharnikow said. So Hazel includes a low-latency mic and speaker array that detects your voice, then uses the speaker array to project your voice out naturally into the world. The voice algorithm can be trained via an app that Razer will include, and it makes it sound exactly what you would without the mask, he said.
Yes, Project Hazel will have RGB, which appears as small rings around the filters whose colors can be changed. The RGB LED rings are both practical and aesthetic; they’ll communicate the mask’s status, or if the LEDs themselves need to be charged. And, of course, users will likely be able to use Razer’s app to adjust the color, too.
Naturally, the Project Hazel mask will need to be charged. Razer designed a combination charging case that both can charge the mask overnight as well as sterilize with via UV light. It’s not clear how long the mask’s charge will last (or if could be used passively, even without a charged battery), how comfortable the mask would be to wear over long periods, and so on. But, c’mon: the future of masks could be glowing, rotating mask filters that you could wear to an (outdoor, distanced) rave and about town. What’s not to like about that?
As PCWorld's senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.