- The C-Mask from Doughnut Robotics can translate and transcribe speech and connect to bluetooth.
- When the coronavirus hit, the company pivoted from its primary robot design to developing masks.
- They are set to ship in September, and cost about $US40.
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The coronavirus made masks a must-have item for leaving home, and Japanese company Doughnut Robotics gave them an upgrade. The robotics company pivoted from designs for airport travellers to integrating those same functions into face masks.
Experts have cautioned people to wear masks, whether they have COVID-19 symptoms or not, and say that masks significantly reduce an infected person’s ability to spread the virus. A downside, though, is that they make communication more difficult.
A mouth covering naturally muffles speech, and they also make lip-reading and following expressions difficult or impossible. With both transcription and translation capabilities, the C-Mask could be a solution to that problem, especially if masks are going to be part of everyday life for the foreseeable future.
Here’s how Doughnut Robotics made them work.
Doughnut Robotics had a contract with Haneda Airport in Tokyo to sell robot translators and guides, like this robot, called Cinnamon.
When COVID-19 hit, the team quickly worked to use its technology in a relevant way. “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,” CEO Taisuke Ono told Reuters.
The mask connects to a smartphone app over Bluetooth, where it can then transcribe speech, be used for calls, or translate Japanese into eight different languages.
The name comes from the Five Cs on Doughnut Robotics’ website:
2. Connect with smartphone
3. Cool design
4. Clean material
5. Combat coronavirus.
It took Doughnut Robotics’ designers only about a month to adapt the technology from the translator robot into the mask.
The C-Mask is worn over a typical face mask, which holds up the smart mask with its straps.
The first 5,000 C-Masks will ship in Japan in September.
The company also has plans to sell in Europe, the US, and China, and has received international attention since it was featured by Reuters.
Ono also said that he hopes to make money from subscriptions to the translation app.
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