While times are still difficult in the U.S., most of China is already returning to something resembling normality. Part of that new normal is that most people wear a face-mask when they're outside of their homes.

This is likely to continue in China for the foreseeable future because even if we find a cure for coronavirus, this won't be the last pandemic. For the same reason, it's highly likely that people in U.S. will continue to wear masks when the pandemic subsides.

However, surgical-style masks have several major limitations:

  • They don't cover your eyes.
  • They cause people to fiddle with their face.
  • They're uncomfortable to wear.
  • They don't filter all that well.
  • Your phone remains a vector for cross-contamination.

A couple of companies have already released face shields that provide cover to your eyes, but that doesn't solve the problem of cross-contamination and a shield doesn't prevent droplets from coming in from the side.

To remain truly safe from airborne infection, what's needed is a lightweight helmet that creates a separate environment for the eyes, mouth, nose and face. Like a space helmet but lighter. It would have a super-efficient air filter, built-in air conditioning, and a voice-activated heads-up display on the inside of the visor area (like Google Glass but much, much bigger).

Because the outside of the device could become contaminated, you'd want the outside surface to be smooth and easily cleaned, ideally while you're wearing it.

This type of environmental helmet is, of course, fairly standard science fiction (think Iron-Man) but, then, so was the smartphone, the portable computer, and half-a-dozen other devices that we now take for granted.

If I'm right about the demand for such a product, this would constitute the rarest of business opportunities: an entirely new form factor for consumer electronics. That only happens about once a decade.

More important, now that Apple has become a markedly uninventive company that's resting on its laurels, an entrepreneur might be able to crowd-source a device like this and establish it as a new product category. And once again, such a product would save lives, even as it generated billions of dollars.