KEY POINTS

  • A Japanese startup firm developed a way to connect a face mask to a smartphone
  • It utilized Bluetooth technology, allowing it to connect to the internet, send a message or translate
  • The firm will be shipping 5,000 smart masks to Japanese buyers by September

With face coverings becoming part of the new normal in a world plagued with the coronavirus pandemic, Donut Robotics, a startup in Japan, has developed a “smart mask” that can connect to the Internet, send messages, and translate from the Japanese languages into eight other dialects.

Bluetooth Technology

The white “c-mask,” which is made of plastic, fits over regular face masks and can connect to a smartphone using Bluetooth technology. The device can also link to a tablet application that automatically converts speech into text messages. It also allows the wearer to make calls while wearing the face covering, as well as amplify the voice of the caller.

According to the CEO of Donut Robotics, Taisuke Ono, they have been working hard for many years to develop various types of robots that assist in many sectors of society. He added that today, they have used their existing technology to come up with a product that adapts and responds to the societal changes which have been brought about by the coronavirus. Japanese tech firm used Bluetooth to connect a smart mask to a smartphone Japanese tech firm used Bluetooth to connect a smart mask to a smartphone Photo: Alexas_Fotos - Pixabay

Robot Translator Technology

The engineers at Donut Robotics thought about the mask concept as they looked for a product that can help their company survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Ono reveals that when the virus struck, their company had just clinched a contract to manufacture robot guides and translators to the Haneda Airport in Tokyo. With the collapse of air travel, they know that their product faces an uncertain future. All is not lost; however, as technologists at their company were able to re-engineer their robot translator technology and allow it to be used in their newly-developed “smart masks.”

Company officials say their first 5,000 c-masks are scheduled to be shipped to Japanese buyers beginning September of 2020, with the company’s CEO looking at the possibility of selling it in other countries as well. These include the United States, China, and Europe. He says some companies in those countries have expressed strong interest.

Subscriber Services

Ono said that each masks costs around $40. He added that this company is targeting a mass market that only appeared a couple of months ago. Another goal, Ono revealed, is to generate enough income from subscriber services they intend to offer through an app that users can download.

Donut Robotics came up with a prototype connected mask in only a month by adapting the translation software it developed for its robot guide to a mask design made by Shunsuke Fujibayashi, one of the engineers in their company. Ono said that the mask was developed four years ago and was intended to interpret speech by analyzing facial muscles.