Totobobo mask for air traveller

Recently we travel to Taiwan and Hong Kong. To be on the safe side we all put on our Totobobo mask on the plane and in the airport. Who knows the one sitting next to you can be coming from a H1N1 flu infected country? This was the “acid test” to see if the mask really work in the context of air travel.

I’ve customized the masks for the two boys and Sharon in advance. So that part is not an issue. Putting it on was easy for Sharon and the younger boy, but it was confusing for the elder one. It turn out that the strap of his mask got entangled a bit and he couldn’t slide the strap along easily. I help him to remove the rubber band and disentangle the strap. He mange to put it on afterward.

A point to note about customization, it is not always true that smaller face need smaller mask. If it fit and seal well, a larger Totobobo mask is usually more comfortable to wear. So if you find the mask too big, start by trimming it a step, never jump to the smallest size immediately. You may find an intermediate size that seal very well and is comfortable to wear even for a long time.

Wearing the mask for an hour or so is not uncomfortable. In fact we pretty much forgot about it because it didn’t interfere with what we do. We all wear glasses, sometimes we read magazine, sometimes we watch TV and sometimes I was busy taking photos 😉

using Totobobo mask for air travel

We had to remove our masks when the food came. We just remove the top strap, pull the mask down such that the contracted top strap now keeps the mask closed, and we just let the mask hang around our neck while eating. We put the mask back after the meal. The elder son fall asleep and the younger one kept watching TV.

I noticed many passenger used surgical masks. One family of three used N95 cup-shaped mask. But the huge N95 mask was not fitting the child and clearly he was not getting much more protection than those wearing surgical mask.

air-steward ask about totobobo mask

Some curious passenger ask where we got the mask from and even the stewards are interested in it. The surgical mask they wear is not giving them the protection they really need. It’s a pity that they have to face so many people from all over the world during the trip but not getting the protection they deserved. Anyone with friends working as air steward? Perhaps you should let them know about Totobobo.

Leaving the plane, we took off our mask when we were shopping in the airport shops, there seems to be more space between people and none of the staff or customers looked sick. Keeping it hanging around the neck was most appropriate because we needed to put on the mask again when we go through the next risk spot- the crowded custom.

Totobobo in Business Week

Put on a brave face

The Totobobo is the world’s first customisable respiratory mask. By Cheah Ui-Hoon

Totobobo featured in Business Times

Totobobo featured in Business Times

Business Times- May 2, 2009

The swine flu that’s sweeping North America and Europe might have you rifling through your cupboards for the face masks you bought six years ago. While most of us simply chucked them into some cabinet or drawer after the Sars outbreak, one man was motivated by the fact that A: The N95 plastic masks are uncomfortable, and B: children could only wear surgical masks and these didn’t filter out airborne viruses.

Totobobo is made with a special blended plastic which is soft enough to comply comfortably to the contours of the face, but not too soft that it touches the mouth.
Product designer Francis Chu put on his thinking cap, after encountering these problems in 2003. ‘As a father of two young children, I was really concerned about this. The challenge that presented itself was clear – to come up with a mask that would fit not just adults but children, and at the same time feel comfortable,’ he explains.

Being a product designer, he was therefore sensitive to user issues and ergonomic requirements. ‘Although I don’t have medical training, I have been involved in designing for disabled children,’ he says. ‘I studied the principle for respiratory protection in different fields, including the medical. I also asked advice from my friends working in the hospitals,’ he adds.

To fund this project, Mr Chu sold his car, trading it in for a bicycle for transport. He started creating hundreds of prototypes using paper first, to find a shape that would best fit various face sizes.

It took six months before he came up with a final design, and he filed an initial patent for it in 2004. That was the genesis of Totobobo (Mandarin for transparent (toto) and protection (bobo)). From then on, it was a matter of getting it to the market, which Mr Chu did – and in no better time as well – earlier this year.

Totobobo is now the world’s first customisable respiratory mask, designed to fit all face shapes, which is also child-friendly.

Having a snug fit is important, he stresses, because if it doesn’t fit, it means you’re not fully protected from contaminated air. This defeats the purpose of wearing a mask, he points out.

‘Current respirator solutions require fit-tests to ensure that the mask fits the individual’s face, which isn’t a realistic requirement for most people,’ explains Mr Chu. In terms of fit, Totobobo is made with a special blended plastic which is soft enough to comply comfortably to the contours of the face, but not too soft that it touches the mouth. The mask doesn’t contain silicon or latex, but can be washable.

On both sides are filtering material imported from Germany, which is able to block 94 per cent of very fine particles including bacteria and germs. ‘If a higher level of protection is needed, you can put two layers of filters together and that will bring the filtration efficiency up to 99 per cent, comparable to N99 masks,’ says Mr Chu.

The good thing is that putting on the mask won’t make you look like a SWAT team member. ‘My intention was to design a mask for normal people and I wanted to create something that would not look too odd when worn in public places, such as a crowded bus during the flu season,’ he explains.

The current swine flu scare is certainly going to see sales of Totobobo go up, but even before this scare, Singapore-based Dream Lab One (the company that Hong Kong-born Mr Chu and his wife, Sharon Li, started) had been selling the mask online, and it has been bought by consumers from over 20 countries.

Among the target audience are cyclists and asthma sufferers, as well as travellers who need to block out both polluted air and other various irritants.

If you’re checking through your mask supplies, it’s time to get up to date with a Totobobo mask. Most likely, the surgical masks from the 2003 Sars days would be unusable, as the straps would have disintegrated into pieces. I should know since I unearthed mine this week.