We touch our faces for many reasons: to groom, to gesture, to scratch. The act can even be soothing in times of stress.
But in the midst of a pandemic, such an ordinary habit can quickly turn fatal -- with our hands transferring germs from contaminated surfaces to our eyes, ears, noses or mouths.
That's what inspired 15-year-old Max Melia from the United Kingdom to invent Vybpro, a watch that can help stop people from subconsciously touching their faces and possibly contracting the coronavirus.
"Watching this pandemic unfold on the news, it was clear the devastating effect it was having on people's lives across the world," Max told CNN. "However it wasn't until I saw the severity of the virus first-hand, when both my parents contracted COVID-19, that I truly appreciated just what we were dealing with."
The watch works by recognizing gestures that are associated with hand movements towards the face. Combining unique technology and algorithms to differentiate between predicted face touchings and other hand movements, the watch vibrates every time a wearer's hand gets close to the face. Max recommends people to wear one watch on each wrist to monitor the movements of both hands.
Max and his mother, Natalie Melia, first came up with the idea in 2018 when the family was discussing ways to prevent the cold and flu. But when the coronavirus pandemic began affecting people worldwide, the rising death toll inspired Max to get to work.
"I knew that this was the only time I had to try and make a difference and so I've had to be really committed, using my time away from school in lockdown wisely. I'm proud of where we are but I know that to get over the final hurdle it will take even more guts."
Using concept work and research that his father, Richard Melia, gathered earlier in the year, Max collaborated with a product designer who was quickly able to produce a working prototype and a cosmetic prototype of the final version of the device.
The rechargeable watch features a silicon waterproof band and sealed pod design to allow for water resistance, including sweat, rain and hand washing.
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Max has launched a $74,000 crowdfunding campaign to finalize the development and get the watch into production and finally take it to market. So far, he has raised $17,000. Donors can choose to pledge with no reward, pre-order watches for themselves or donate watches to nursing home staff.
All profits made from early sales will go towards providing free watches to vulnerable people and front line workers, such as those in nursing homes and health care workers with the National Health Service (NHS).
"I believe that this device can make a real difference in the fight against coronavirus and so I'm determined to do all that I can to bring it to market," Max said. "I really hope that the general public can see the potential and are inspired to get behind the campaign to fund the next stage of the development."
VybPro is designed and manufactured in the UK and will retail from around $111, for a pair of wristbands. If the team hits their funding target, it could be on people's wrists by September 2020.