Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 September 2020

FUTURE

Japanese start-up develops smart mask to improve voice quality and offer translations

The c-mask will cost between $40 to $50 and a monthly fee will be charged for translation and transcription services

Donut Robotics' c-face smart mask fits over standard face masks and can translate what the wearer is saying in eight languages. Courtesy Donut Robotics
Donut Robotics' c-face smart mask fits over standard face masks and can translate what the wearer is saying in eight languages. Courtesy Donut Robotics

A Japanese company has developed a smart face mask that can amplify the wearer’s voice, transcribe speech into text messages and make calls.

Developed by Donut Robotics, the “c-face” smart mask uses an embedded microphone to connect through Bluetooth to a user’s smartphone.

It can translate from Japanese into English, Chinese, French, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and Indonesian.

“C-face is the world’s first smart mask that works with smartphones ... developed by applying robotics technology. We hope this device will be useful in a society where people naturally practice social distancing,” Donut Robotics said in a statement.

The company said the c-face currently processes only voice and text messages. However, it plans to integrate image systems – using augmented and virtual reality – into its products in the future.

Made of white plastic and silicone, the c-face mask fits over standard face masks.

Donut Robotics, which raised more than $800,000 (Dh2.94 million) through Japanese crowdfunding platform Fundinno in the past two months, intends to launch the product in Japan in December, with an initial quantity of between 5,000 and 10,000 masks.

The mask will cost between $40 to $50 and a monthly fee will be charged for translation and transcription services.

The product will be launched around the world in the second quarter of next year, the company said.

Founded in a garage in Kitakyushu City in 2014, Donut Robotics had been working with Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to supply robot translators and guides before the coronavirus pandemic began.

However, as air travel came to a halt due to the virus, the company switched gears and began to produce smart masks designed to make communication easier amid social distancing rules.

“We worked hard for years to develop a robot and we have used that technology to create a product [the c-face mask] that responds to how the coronavirus has reshaped society,” Taisuke Ono, the company’s chief executive, told Reuters.

Donut Robotics’ move to reorganise its operations comes as industrial companies around the world transform their factories to produce medical supplies such as surgical masks and ventilators, which are currently in short supply.

US car makers such as Ford and General Motors have also begun to produce masks and ventilators.

European and US companies have shown a keen interest in c-face masks and Donut Robotics said it is looking forward to raising money on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform as it pushes to expand globally, Mr Ono said.

The number of coronavirus infections stood at more than 19.8 million on Sunday, with 729,891 deaths and about 12.7 million recoveries, Worldometers data showed.

Updated: August 10, 2020 10:29 AM

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