As face masks become the norm in the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese startup Donut Robotics has developed an Internet-connected “smart mask” that can transmit information and translate Japanese into eight other languages.

The white plastic “c-mask” can be worn on standard masks and connected to smartphones and tablet applications via Bluetooth. The app can convert voices into text messages, make calls or amplify the voice of the person wearing the mask.

Taisuke Ono, CEO of Donut Robotics, said: “We have worked hard for many years to develop robots. We have used this technology to develop a product that can respond to how the coronavirus is reshaping society.

Engineers at Donut Robotics came up with the gas mask idea while looking for products to help the company survive the pandemic. When the coronavirus hit, it had just won a contract to provide robot guides and translations to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, which faced an uncertain future after the collapse of air travel.

Donut Robotics’ first batch of 5,000 C-masks will be delivered to buyers in Japan in September, and Ono hopes to be sold in China, the United States and Europe. He said that people are very interested in it.

The price of each mask is about US$40 (approximately 3,000 rupees), and Donut Robotics is targeting a mass market that did not appear until a few months ago. He said that one of its goals is to generate revenue through subscriber services provided by apps downloaded by users.

By adapting the translation software developed for its robots and a mask design, Donut Robotics built a prototype connected mask within one month. The mask was one of the company’s engineers Shunsuke Fujibayashi for a student four years ago Created by the project to interpret speech by drawing facial muscles.

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Ono raised 28 million yen (approximately 1.98 million rupees) for development through the sale of Donut Robotics stock through Japanese crowdfunding site Fundinno.

He said: “We raised our initial target of 7 million yen within three minutes, and stopped when we reached 28 million yen after 37 minutes.”

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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