Donut Robotics, a Japanese startup, has just unveiled the C-mask, a high-tech face mask that can understand conversations and translate them via smartphone or tablet into nine languages: English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Bahasa, and Vietnamese.
Before the start of the pandemic, Donut Robotics had entered a contract with the Haneda Airport in Tokyo to supply robot guides and translators, but then the air travel industry was put on hold, so they had to pivot and decided to use the innovative technology for a product adapted to the new normal.
The money for the development of the C-mask was raised on Japanese crowdfunding platform Fundinno. In the first three minutes after they posted the project, Donut Robotics raised their 7 million yen target and stopped after 37 minutes, when they reached 28 million yen ($260,000), which goes to show how popular this project was.
For the development of the high-tech face mask, Donut Robotics used their existing translation software and a mask prototype designed by one of their engineers four years ago. In Japan, the use of facial coverings has been part of local culture for many years, so it’s not surprising that the population was generally excited about a high-tech version.
The C-mask will cost approximately $40/piece, and the first 5,000 pieces will go to Japanese buyers starting in September. There’s also an interest for this product in China, the United States, and Europe, so Donut Robotics said that they are considering shipping internationally in the future. The mask will be used with a subscription-based downloadable app, which is at the core of the startup’s revenue model.
In a video posted by Donut Robotics, we can see that the C-mask can be placed on top of the regular cloth or single-use face masks. Then, you connect it to your smartphone via Bluetooth, and a dedicated app then translates what the wearer is saying.
This high-tech face mask is not only an exciting product per se but also a great example of innovation and adaptability. At the beginning of the year, the translation solutions of Donut Robotics were meant to be used in the air travel industry but, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, this entire sector came to a halt. Donut Robotics quickly adapted and rethought its business model in a way that was both innovative and relevant to the current climate.
According to the World Health Organization, consistent use of face masks indoors and in crowded public areas can reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission considerably. Despite having one of the highest urban densities in the world, Japan managed to flatten the curve and keep the number of fatalities to a minimum. The authorities managed to keep things under control, but the fact that the population was already used to wearing face masks played an essential role in containing the Coronavirus.