Wonders never seize! When the Covid-19 pandemic made face masks an everyday essential, Japanese startup Donut Robotics spotted an opportunity. As people around the world are being urged to wear face masks when out in public, it hasn’t taken long for the functionality of a mask to be greatly enhanced but thanks to technology. The Donut Robotics has created a smart mask (C-Face smart mask) – a high-tech upgrade to standard face coverings, designed to make communication and social distancing easier through translations.
Conjointly with an app, the C-Face Smart mask can transcribe dictation amplify the wearer’s voice, and translate speech into eight different languages. As you’d expect, the mask doesn’t work on its own, its instead relying on a wireless link (Bluetooth) to a smartphone and Donut Robotics’ software. The associated app uses machine learning developed with the help of translation experts and specializes in the Japanese language to handle language translations. Most competitor apps focus on translating to and from English. Donut Robotics CEO Taisuke Ono claims it’s “better than Google API, or other popular technologies” for Japanese.
Donut Robotics first developed the translations software for a robot called Cinnamon but when the pandemic hit, the robot project was put on hold. That’s when the team’s engineers came up with the idea to use their software in a facemask.
The cutouts on the front are vital for breathability, so the smart mask doesn’t offer protection against the corona virus. Instead, it is designed to be worn over a standard face mask, explains Donut Robotics CEO Taisuke Ono. Made of white plastic and silicone, it has an embedded microphone that connects to the wearer’s smartphone via Bluetooth. The system can translate between Japanese and Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, English, Spanish and French.
The mask’s Bluetooth chip can connect to smartphones up to 32 feet (10 meters) away, says Ono. He hopes the mask will make new social distancing norms in locations including hospitals and offices easier, by enabling good communication.
The company is expecting to make the mask available from January 2021 at a cost of roughly $38. If you want to take advantage of the translations and dictation features, there’s going to be a monthly charged, but the ongoing cost has yet to be disclosed. It also seems likely this will be the first of many smart masks to appear in the coming months, because companies are now realizing this is a new category of wearable and there’s the potential for millions of customers.
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