(Corrects 9th paragraph with Vingroup statement on involvement in project extending to evaluation and feedback on helmet, not an agreement with unit VinSmart to help mass produce)
By Minh Nguyen
HANOI, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Three Vietnamese school students have designed a helmet that allows frontline health workers to have a snack or even scratch their nose without exposing themselves to the risks of coronavirus infection.
The pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the trade-off at times between the comfort and safety of protective personal equipment (PPE), especially for workers who are required to suit up in such outfits for hours on end.
To address this problem, students were set a challenge to design a helmet connected to a respirator that not only protects but allows frontline workers to remain productive for longer.
The group came up with the "Vihelm", a portmanteau of Vietnam and helmet. It has a glove box access so a wearer can fit their hand inside and, for example, wipe sweat off their face or clean a visor while keeping the helmet sealed.
"A big difference with this helmet is the glove box... You can use it to interact with your face safely," said Tran Nguyen Khanh An, 14, one of the students who won a "Best Invention Design Award" at the International Invention Innovation Competition in Canada last month for their design.
The futuristic looking helmet also has an internal compartment that can hold a snack for a frontline worker and is attached by a tube to a powered air-purifying respirator to exclude contaminated air.
While such respirators are considered significantly safer than standard masks, they can be far more uncomfortable than other forms of PPE.
The Vihelm, which currently costs under $300 to make, even has pockets around the head area that allow users to give the area a scratch if the device starts rubbing in the area.
Vingroup, Vietnam's largest conglomerate, said in a statement that the company had evaluated the helmet and offered technical feedback on its design. Vingroup has been producing ventilators throughout the pandemic. (Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Sam Holmes)