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The Latest Covid Innovation: a Japanese Face Mask That Translates as You Speak

Featured image from Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

Is this the first ever ‘smart mask’? Japanese startup company Donut Robotics has developed a mask that can translate languages in real time. The mask works through a connection to an app, also from Donut Robotics. The mask can translate Japanese into eight different languages, but can do more than just that. The ‘c-mask’ can transcribe as the wearer speaks, be used for calls, and even amplify the speaker’s voice, as well as having a real time translating capability. 

Donut Robotics created the mask as a response to the pandemic but using technology that had been in development by the company for some time. Prior to the c-mask, the start-up was working on robot guides and translators for Haneda Airport in Tokyo. The arrival of Covid-19 created financial uncertainty for this task as a result of reduced use of airplanes and airports. This forced Donut Robotics to begin working on other projects in the meantime, and the most successful of these is the ‘c-mask’. The mask only took around a month to develop from the existing technology of a translator robot.

Image from Donut Robotics

When speaking to Reuters, Donut Robotics’ chief executive Taisuke Ono said:

“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.

We still have many situations where we have to meet in person. In this new normal … the mask and the app are very helpful.”

Since the pandemic made face-masks an essential part of every day life, fashion brands have frantically been offering customers a wide variety of styles with some expensive designer masks and many affordable fast fashion alternatives. In the tech industry, there has been less innovation – until now. Donut Robotics saw the opportunity that mandatory face masks created, and created a smart mask that they hope can break into the mass market and become mainstream.

The mask will be shipped to Japan this autumn, and Donut Robotics plans to soon go international. The languages it can translate into, in its current iteration, are: Japanese, English, Chinese, French, Korean, Thai, Bahasa, Spanish and Vietnamese. The mask will sell for 4378 yen or £31.34, making it affordable and therefore hopefully capable of becoming a mainstream commodity. 

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