A Japanese tech company has developed a Bluetooth-powered mask that not only protects from the coronavirus, but it also has a built-in speaker and software for translating eight languages.
Donut Robotics developed the “c-mask.” They masks can be connected to a smartphone app via Bluetooth that will allow the device to transcribe a person’s speech and translate it into eight different languages. It can also be used to make phone calls.
The C-mask also has a built-in speaker to augment a person’s voice while users can create recordings using the mask’s microphone and store them on the smartphone.
Donut Robotics has raised about $260,000 (7 million Yen) through Fundinno, a Japanese crowdfunding site, to fund its development. According to The Daily Mail, the company will release about 5,000 masks in Japan in September. Each mask will be priced at $37 or 3,980 Yen.
Donut Robotics’ CEO Taisuke Ono told Reuters in an interview that they had raised their “initial target of 7 million Yen within three minutes and stopped after 37 minutes when we had reached 28 million Yen.”
There will also be a monthly subscription fee to access translation software, although the price has yet to be announced. According to a Japan Today report, the mask’s software will support eight languages including Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Thai, Korean, Indonesian, and Vietnamese.
The mask has a simple shell design that looks like a standard commercial mask used to protect against COVID-19. Its straps run through two small slits on each side.
The idea for the mask came up as Donut’s engineers sought for a product to help the company survive the coronavirus pandemic.
Before the health crisis, the company just secured a deal with Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. However, the contract, which is for supplying robot guides and translators at the airport, faces an uncertain future since the air travel industry collapsed during the crisis.
Within a month, the company built a prototype mask by integrating the translation software for its robot and a mask, which Donut Engineer Shunsuke Fujibayashi created for a student project four years ago.
The company’s earlier project, called ‘Cinnamon,’ is a desktop helper robot that helps answer basic questions. It is used at the airport, reception desks, and customer service stands. The robot can be set up to introduce products and it has an “advanced translation function.”
‘We worked hard for years to develop a robot and we have used that technology to create a product that responds to how the coronavirus has reshaped society,” Donut Robotics’ CEO Taisuke Ono told Reuters in an interview.
The company ultimately aims to release the mask outside of Japan. This early, Ono said they have been receiving strong interest from clients from China, U.S., and Europe.
Meanwhile, like any other technology, the C-mask technology could have further enhancements to support other functions like some augmented reality (AR) features. Donut says AR will be possible using a built-in Wi-Fi receiver, although it has not given further details on how AR features would be added into the mask.