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Is this the future of face masks?

After all, what are shoes, said Will.i.am, but protective equipment for the feet? We have just forgotten that it was their original purpose because shoes have become a form of self-expression. You could not, “he pointed out,” go into a mall or a restaurant or a plane without shoes on, “just like you should not go into any of these places without a mask.” But you do not have to tell anyone to wear shoes, “he said. Therefore, if you can make a mask serve the same purpose (or multipurpose), you win.

Will.i.am spoke via Zoom from his headquarters in Los Angeles, a room containing a soundstage, a recording studio, his “fab lab”

; (where he makes prototypes) and now his Xupermask team.

Will.i.am got the idea for Xupermask in March last year, just before his 45th birthday, when he was in the UK filming “The Voice” (he has been a judge on the show for 10 years) and Europe started to lock up . . “I was worried about not being able to get into America, and even though I managed to get in, about being on a plane,” he said. So he called his hardware team and asked them to work.

He has been dipping in and out of technology since he helped found Beats Electronics in 2006. In 2014, he developed a fashion smartwatch called Puls, and in 2016 he came out with fashion earplugs you could wear around your neck as jewelry – Naomi Campbell and Kendall Jenner were ambassadors – but none of the products really took off (without a doubt the entire portable product market is not exactly a rocket ship). He does not care. He loves research and development.

“I think L stands for learning, not loss,” he said.

Now, however, he has Honeywell’s power behind him and plans to collaborate with Xupermask with artists and other brands. (He does not want to name names, although he did talk about how much he loved the North Face-Gucci collaboration.) And he really does not think masks will disappear soon. Not if recent history is any indication.

“SARS happened in Japan and Southeast Asia, and they came across it, and they still wear masks,” he said, suggesting the same would be true in the West. Especially since masks seemed to have helped limit flu cases as well. Regardless, no matter what happens on the ground, he expects masks on planes to be the new norm. “That’s what I hear,” he said.

He must feel.

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