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Military drone maker Altavian is churning out N95 masks for COVID-19 response

Altavian, a drone maker that supplies the US military, has shifted some of its production to a new kind of N95-grade mask to be used by medical personnel on the frontlines of America’s latest battle—the COVID-19 emergency response. In fact, the new masks may even exceed the protection of traditional N95 models.

The biggest challenge in supplying personal protective equipment (PPE) is the shortage of specialty materials required. N95 masks are made from high-grade spun polypropylene filter material produced by just a handful of manufacturers. Working with the University of Florida, Altavian has found an alternate source of filter material—the two-ply spun polypropylene wrapping that goes around surgical instrument trays.

The material, typically thrown out after instruments are unwrapped, is rated to block 99.9% of particulates in the air, making it in theory even more effective than N95 masks (which are rated as 95% effective). Altavian’s masks fit a square of the material as a screen into the injection molded mask body.

Altavian aims to produce thousands of masks per day, but it is also open-sourcing the design, so that others around the country can also produce the masks. It’s seeking to recruit injection molding companies as well as owners of 3D printers to help produce more mask bodies (into which the polypropylene filters are fitted). Altavian has also set up a nonprofit to accept donations that fund the effort. It asks contributors to reach out to the company at

The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a flurry of creativity in meeting the shortage of PPE and other crucial medical equipment. Whether it’s General Motors building ventilators, distilleries making hand sanitizer, or drone companies making masks, every bit helps keep people safe.

Image credit: Altavian



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Sean Captain is a Bay Area technology, science, and policy journalist. Follow him on Twitter @SeanCaptain.