COVID has made travel a risky endeavor, and I’ve been eager to find anything that can make travel safer. So, I was very interested when I heard about the UVMask, a reusable face mask that has both an N95 filter and “UV-C Sterile Vortex” and promises “the highest levels of total filtration efficiency”. The UVMask was launched as a Kickstarter project and backers will get a UVMask with a pledge of $99 or more. The campaign is scheduled to end on Friday, August 14th, 2020. With over $2.3 million raised, the campaign has far surpassed its goal of $20,000.
Sounds like a great deal, right? Almost…too good to be true? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. So, I started investigating the UVMask and its creators. Here’s what I found.
UVMask was created by a company called UM Systems. According to the Kickstarter campaign:
I first started researching UM Systems, and several red flags popped up immediately.
- UM Systems is not registered as a company in Colorado or in Delaware (where many U.S. companies are incorporated). There is no evidence that UM Systems is registered as a company in the US at all.
- It seems unlikely that UM Systems was founded in 2016, as it claims. The company’s domain, um.systems, was not registered until March 2020.
- Trademarks for UM Systems, its products, and technology, were not registered until July 2020, according to the United States Patent and Trade Office (USPTO).
- UM Systems’ CEO, Boz Zou, claims that he has been at the company since 2016 on his LinkedIn profile. However, Boz’s Twitter account makes no mention of UM Systems until June 2020. Instead, Boz’s Tweets since 2016 mostly include news about Bitcoin.
- Boz’ Tweets in 2018 also link to several articles (many self-published) that say Boz works for different companies including Thingfy, Health Wallace, and his own company BOZ UX. I find it unlikely that Boz would be the CEO of a company for four years, yet make no mention of it.
Now, some may argue that UM Systems was in “stealth mode” from 2016 until recently. That is a possibility, although it seems hard to believe that the company would be in stealth mode in 2016 when its first product is a face mask designed for a virus that emerged in 2020.
Measure, Inc. does appear to be a real company. It has an active website that was registered in 2014. The company’s website lists 20 products and shows photos from trade shows which appear to be legit.
However, there are other parts of Measure, Inc.’s website that seem to be less than genuine. The company shows an image of its factory on its website. But if you look closely at the company’s logo you can see that it’s off-center and misaligned to the face of the building – a clear Photoshop job.
Measure, Inc.’s image of its factory floor shows similar evidence of Photoshopping. The text on the company’s foreground sign is sharper than the rest of the photo, and the sign in the background is misaligned and clearly pasted into the photo.
There are several other red flags about Measure, Inc.:
- Measure, Inc. does not appear to have any operating office in the U.S., as the UVMask Kickstarter campaign claims. Measure, Inc’s USPTO trademark application lists its address as 30 South 18th Avenue, Brighton, Colorado. However, according to Google Maps, this address doesn’t exist.
- The U.S. phone number for Measure, Inc. goes to the law office of Jeff Levy, a lawyer based in Toronto, Canada, who is listed as Measure Inc.’s attorney. This is probably a law office that worked on the company’s registration.
- Measure, Inc. is registered as a business in Colorado. The Registered Agent for the company is Panfeng Xiang, who is also listed as a founder on Measure, Inc’s website. However, the address for the company, 1130 7th Ave, Greeley, CO 80631, is a self-storage company that is most likely just used to collect mail.
There does appear to be some connection between Measure, Inc. and UM Systems. The UVMask Kickstarter campaign lists “Patrick Xiang” as its CTO. I think “Patrick Xiang” and “Panfeng Xiang”, the Registered Agent of Measure, Inc., are the same person. Although the first names are different, it is a common practice for Asians to adopt an American-sounding name when doing business in the U.S.
An alternative theory is that UM Systems has no relation to Measure, Inc. and is simply piggy-backing off its name. While this is possible, I find this unlikely since there are many other Chinese businesses that UM Systems could have chosen to use which have a more credible U.S. presence and/or experience in the medical field.
It seems clear that UM Systems is overstating its history – I am highly doubtful that it was founded anywhere close to 2016. It’s also clear to me that neither UM Systems nor Measure, Inc. has a meaningful presence in the U.S.
What I don’t know the reason for the false and misleading claims about the two companies. UM Systems may be simply exaggerating its history and U.S. presence to make its Kickstarter campaign more credible. Another possibility is that the Kickstarter campaign is a complete fraud, and once funded UM Systems plans to disappear with pledged funds. Either way, this inconsistent information about UM Systems and Measure, Inc. is troubling and would prevent me from backing this project.
One of the first things I look at on any Kickstarter campaign is the project’s team. I believe that a team that has strong experience with developing a particular product or technology is more likely to successfully deliver a funded project.
Here is the UM Systems team, as shown on Kickstarter. I’ll go through some research on a few of these folks:
- As mentioned before, Boz’s claims that he has been at UM Systems since 2016 ring false. There are many recent articles about Boz, some self-published, that show him working for companies including Thingfy, Health Maters, and BOZ UX.
- Boz’s LinkedIn profile shows that he also currently holds the co-founder position at Thingfy, a company based in Toronto, as well as his own company, BOZ UX. According to Boz’s profile, he has worked for both UM Systems and Thingfy since 2016.
- Boz has no experience with medical technology. His background is primarily in UX, although he also appears to be a Bitcoin evangelist.
- Boz appears to live in Canada, not at UM Systems’ supposed Colorado headquarters.
Patrick “Panfeng” Xiang
- I don’t see any evidence that Xiang that leads me to doubt UM Systems’ claim that Xiang founded Measure, Inc. However, I see no connection to him and UM Systems.
- Xiang does have several patents that show him as the inventor. 项盼峰 are the characters for Panfeng Xiang.
- However, according to Google Patents, all of Xiang’s patents are related to laser-measuring technology or solar technology. Xiang has not received any patents related to medical technology or UV-C technology.
- None of Xiang’s patents seem to involve technology which “led to the creation of UVMask”, as the product’s Kickstarter campaign reads. However, this language is rather vague, so it could really be used to describe anything.
- Kir (full name Kirill) Rostovsky’s LinkedIn profile shows that he has been the COO of UM Systems since February 2017. However, like Boz Zou, Kir’s work history shows that he is also currently employed at Thingfy, where he holds the position of Creative Director. Kir also has a resume posted on LinkedIn which shows Thingfy as his current role since 2017, even though he supposedly was working at UM Systems at that time.
- Kir has been an active collaborator on Thingfy’s Kickstarter projects. His Kickstarter comments to backers appear as recently as November 2019. He is also listed as a collaborator for a company called Ti22.
Xia Le Alzubaydi (shown as Lee Alzubaydi on the Kickstarter campaign)
- Le’s Linkedin profile says that she has worked at IOL Technology and Imperial Medical Technology concurrently for over a decade. She lists these two companies as her current employer. Neither company has a Linkedin page or any other employees listed on LinkedIn. I couldn’t find a website for either company.
- At IOL Technology, Le was involved in “finding buyers who wants [sic] their project parts made in China.” Essentially, she seems like a middleman between foreign companies and Chinese parts manufacturers.
Daniel, Johannes, Dima and Maria
- These four are supposedly part of UM Systems design, research, and creative team. They are listed on the Kickstarter page and on UM Systems’ website.
- All four appear to be Russian citizens. The UM Systems website provides links to some of their social media profiles.
- Daniel, real name Daniil Osstrikov, appears to be a designer. He lists his company as “Фрилансер”, which translates to freelancer. He lists several projects on his Facebook page, including conceptual designs and work on a drone. Daniil’s drone project appears to be affiliated with a Russian company called Horizon.
The most peculiar part of UM Systems’ “Team” section is the team photo. The photo is an animated GIF that shows the team in a modern-looking office with a UM logo above.
However, a closer look at the photo shows that it’s Photoshopped. One example is the dog which appears in the photo. In the second image of the GIF, you can see that the dog’s leash is partially removed, but not completely – what you see is part of a red leash leading to nowhere. This was clearly a photo of a dog that was added to the picture.
The legs under the table are unusual as well. If you look below Daniel, you’ll see that his left leg…well…doesn’t exist. There’s also a very sharp, jagged, white space between Daniel’s leg and the person to his left. Again, a clear Photoshop job.
The team photo doesn’t show members of UM System’s executive team; Boz, Patrick, Kir, Lee, or their lawyer David are not in the photo.
I have a few concerns about UM Systems’ team. The UVMask is a medical product, but the UM Systems team doesn’t appear to have any experience developing medical products. Patrick has worked with lasers and solar, but not medical devices. And while Le has experience sourcing medical products from China, she’s not a scientist. Her degrees, according to Linkedin, are “Chinese Alternative Medicine” and computer programming.
Instead, UM Systems’ team is full of designers – Boz, Kir, Daniel, and Maria. Designers are great at creating prototypes and mockups that can be used to promote a Kickstarter campaign. But they don’t have experience with designing medical products or bringing these products to market.
The Photoshopped team picture is also concerning. It really shouldn’t be that difficult for a legitimate company that was founded in 2016 to have an actual picture of their team. The effort made to create this fake team picture is alarming; it a worst-case scenario it could mean the team is completely fake – just filled with several Russians willing to have their face Photoshopped into a photo.
Finally, it’s peculiar that two members of UM Systems’ executive team, Boz and Kir, both list their current employer as Thingfy. This is what I researched next.
The Thingfy Connection
Thingfy’s website positions the company as “an industry 4.0 innovation incubator that brings ideas to life at game-changing speed and scale.” Thingfy’s “Team” page shows Boz as the CEO and the “About” page lists its address as 330 Esna Park Dr #37, Markham, ON L3R 1H3, Canada. Not surprisingly, this does not appear to be an actual Thingfy office. Google Maps images of this address show that Suite 37 at 330 Ensa Park Drive is occupied by Cartridgeone, Inc.
Thingfy has been active on both Kickstarter and Indegogo. Its projects include a curious mix of products: camera lenses, utensils, and a wireless charger. Thingfy’s projects have all reached their funding goals, and in total the company has raised over $1 million.
So why would Boz create UM Systems, a company with no history, to sell the UVMask when he could have launched the project under Thingfy?
I think the answer is that Thingfy has a poor reputation for actually shipping products, and when it does the products are often defective. Here’s the comment section for Thingfy’s latest project, a pinhole camera, which was successfully funded in October 2019. Many commenters have not received their product:
These are just a few. There are many, many, many more complaints about the product not being received. The company was responding to comments two months ago, but since then the company has gone completely dark and is no longer replying at all to commenters.
The few backers that did receive their product had complaints:
One could argue that COVID was the reason for the delays with Thingfy’s product delivery. But a look at comments for the company’s other campaigns shows that Thingfy has a history for not delivering. Here are comments for a Thingfy Indegogo project that was backed in June 2017:
My opinion is that Thingfy realized that its reputation was poor due to its failure to deliver products or the delivery of defective products. So, Thingfy’s CEO Boz created a new company, UM Systems, to launch the UVMask campaign. Based on Thingfy’s lack of communication to backers over the past couple months – the company basically ghosted backers of its last campaign – I wouldn’t be surprised if Thingfy has simply closed for good and is no longer making any attempt to deliver products to backers.
About the UVMask
There are three main components to the UVMask:
- The rubber mask itself
- A replaceable N95 filter
- The “UV-C Sterile-Vortex”
The rubber mask and N95 filter are existing technologies. There are many companies selling similar products and other Kickstarter campaigns for reusable N95 masks.
The UV-C Serile-Vortex, on the other hand, is quite unique – and I suspect that this is the feature that has persuaded so many people to back this project. The UV-C Sterile Vortex is a small, circular chamber that contains two UV-C LEDs. UM Systems claims that this chamber is able to “purify the air in seconds”.
I think that UM Systems has been very clever in the way that it describes the UV-C Sterile Vortex. The company doesn’t actually make any specific claims about what the UV-C Sterile Vortex does.
Viewers may assume from the Kickstarter page that the Vortex is designed to kill viruses like COVID. But UM Systems doesn’t make this claim on its Kickstarter page at all – in fact, there is not one mention of COVID or viruses in the entire campaign. The only claim that UM Systems makes is that the Vortex will “purify” the air and provide protection from “pollution” – extremely vague language that would be difficult for anyone to challenge.
UM Systems does claim that the UVMask has been tested by SGS Lab. But a close look at SGS certifications (available in UM Systems’ media kit) shows that the actual product tested was a cloth KN95 mask (image below), not the UVMask. There are no documents that show SGS tested the finished UVMask or the Vortex.
While UV light has been proven to kill viruses, this often takes several seconds or even minutes. There’s no evidence that viruses can be killed in the fractions of a second that it will take for air to pass through the small Vortex chamber.
UM Systems also sidesteps any sort of regulatory requirement with the following disclaimer:
This disclaimer is close to the end of UM Systems’ Kickstarter campaign and in my opinion, it’s disingenuous. While it is true that facemasks for non-medical use are not regulated by the FDA, backers of this project are almost certainly purchasing the mask to protect themselves from COVID. UM Systems’ Kickstarter page is brilliant because it leverages the reader’s existing knowledge that UV light can kill viruses, then allows the reader to infer that the UVMask can prevent COVID.
So, is the UVMask a scam? Well, I’ll let you make that decision for yourself. What I believe is the following:
- UM Systems was not founded in 2016. I am skeptical that it is an actual company registered in the United States.
- Neither UM Systems nor Measure, Inc. have an active, staffed office in the U.S.
- Both UM Systems and Measure, Inc. have used Photoshopped images to make their companies appear like something they are not.
- UM Systems has a great design team that was able to create a compelling Kickstarter campaign. However, they have no background in creating medical devices.
- UM Systems claims that the “UVMask has been independently tested and certified by the ISO 17025 accredited SGS Lab” does not appear to be true. SGS Lab appears to have tested a fabric N95 mask. UM Systems does not provide any evidence the Vortex was tested at all.
- UM Systems relies on clever – some may call it deceptive – marketing. They leverage the reader’s assumptions about the virus-killing ability of UV light, while not actually making any claims themselves.
- UM Systems’ team, specifically Boz and Kir, has a horrible reputation for delivering products as part of Thingfy. Many backers complain that they haven’t received their products, and others complain about defective products. I am skeptical that they will be able to deliver this product successfully.
- There is no evidence that the UV-C Sterile Vortex is capable of killing COVID, nor does UM Systems make this claim.
There are several possible reasons for the inconsistencies, exaggerations, and misrepresentations on UM System’s Kickstarter campaign. It’s possible that UM Systems is a legitimate company that’s stretching the truth to make its campaign more successful. It’s also possible that, after ghosting backers of its last campaign, former Thingfy employees founded UM Systems and hired a team of great designers to make a fake product that leverages the COVID pandemic. The truth is also possibly somewhere in the middle.
As of this writing, the UVMask has raised close to $2.4 million from over 12 thousand backers. There are eight days until the project ends. Will I be backing this project? Hell no.