This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.
As COVID-19 continues to spread, people around the world are learning to shift their daily routines into one that’s suitable for life under a pandemic. Many countries have lifted strict lockdowns, and now this means creating a “new normal” that’s safe for everyone. One of the biggest changes is wearing face masks, which has been proven to decrease the spread of the virus. While many are still not keen on wearing them, a Japanese startup’s innovation has found a way to make the new essential even more useful in daily conversations.
Donut Robotics is developing the “c-mask,” a smart face mask that can record conversations, transcribe them into text messages via BlueTooth and an app, and translate. It can also make calls, take down meeting minutes, and make the wearer's voice louder. It currently works in nine languages: Japanese, English, Chinese, French, Korean, Thai, Bahasa, Spanish, and Vietnamese. According to a 2016 study, about 70 percent of Japanese adults believe they have poor English skills, so the mask can help during conversations with non-Japanese speakers.
Donut Robotic engineers came up with the idea while discussing the future of the company, which was developing robot guides and translators fro Tokyo’s Haneda Airport before the pandemic hit, Reuters reported.
They have raised 28 million yen (US$260,000) to continue developing technology for the innovative face mask through the Japanese crowdfunding website Fundinno. This amount is triple their initial goal of 7 million yen (US$65,000), showing that there’s a demand for the product.
“[F]or many years, we [Donut Robotics] have spent time on developing robots, and we have decided to utilise the technology to be useful in the post-coronavirus world,” Donut Robotics CEO Taisuke Ono, said in an interview with Reuters Japan.
The first 5,000 c-masks will be released in September and sold for 3,980 yen (US$37) each in Japan. The startup hopes to bring it to other countries like the United States, China, and parts of Europe as well.
But they won’t stop there.
According to its website, Donut Robotics plans to develop the technology further, eventually adding AR and VR features.
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