The research of the Politecnico di Milano for Narvalo

Lo studio del Politecnico per le Mascherine Narvalo

Designing an airway protection mask is not a game.

The Narvalo concept was born on the benches of the School of Design of the Polytechnic of Milan, in the Smart Design laboratory.

The basic idea was to design a smart anti-smog mask for urban commuters. The project evolves in collaboration with BLS and with the contribution of Prof. Venanzio Arquilla but also thanks to the incubation path called Switch2Product by POLIHUB and the talent in residence period in Polifactory, the maker space of the Polytechnic of Milan.
A project that immediately appeared interesting and has taken shape today .
A project not created expressly for COVID but which immediately appeared coherent and useful in this context too.
Like all design projects developed in a coherent manner, Narvalo envisaged a complex research and development process that started from the analysis of the context and competitors up to development and engineering.

Let's try to briefly retrace the phases to understand what is really behind the choices that were made.

The context

Today, more than 56% of the world's population lives in urban areas and is exposed to dangerous and harmful levels of air pollutants , which affect our health and psychological well-being.
Urbanization has led an ever-increasing number of people to live in urban settings which are usually very polluted areas. There are many users who try to protect themselves from this almost invisible threat.
We are talking about an enemy for our health that has 3 obvious elements: smog , viruses , bacteria and pollen .

Competitive benchmarking

After extensive research on the main urban and non-urban air pollutants, their diffusion and the risk to human health, the advantages and disadvantages of the protective devices already available on the market were analysed, in a qualitative benchmarking. From this initial research we defined target product profiles which we then applied to guide the design process in defining the shape, material and functionality of the masks.
These primary requirements are explored through the breathability , fit and performance of the masks .

User Experience

The project, aiming to improve the user experience, worked on building significant added value by implementing innovative textile applications to improve comfort and performance and enhancing its functionality with the incorporation of sensors and electronics.
By embedding sensing technology within the mask, it is able to monitor its usage and provide the user with relevant data relating to their activity, performance and mask usage through a dedicated mobile application.

The materials

The materials used in the development of the project were tested to meet a series of criteria such as breathability , washability and sustainability .

The personas

We have identified 3 primary user segments among all potential users of the product:

  • the urban commuter
  • the urban trainer
  • the urban athlete

and we have developed 3 product profiles that meet the individual needs of each specific segment.

The element that these groups have in common is movement in urban environments , although all at different intensities. The commuter on foot or by bicycle or motorbike to go from home to work, the trainer to go out and exercise and the urban athlete to put his body under stress and achieve maximum performance.
The three mask profiles have unique and specific elements that meet the needs and requirements of each target group.


The experimental approach

The project was developed through a practical experimental approach through the Open Call for Talents in Residence at the Polifactory, the Makerspace of the Polytechnic of Milan.

This process allowed digital fabrication processes to be experimented within the project. Furthermore, the Narvalo project was selected as one of the winners of the Switch2Product competition , and was pre-incubated for a period of 4 months in Polihub , the incubator of the Polytechnic University of Milan.

Support the conceptualization and consolidation of the commercial aspects and the strategic development of the project.

The network created during thesis activities attracted interest from investors and industries, making this an opportunity to grow Narwhal from concept to startup.

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