TOKYO – As facial covers become the norm amid the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese startup Donut Robotics has developed an internet-connected “smart mask” that can transmit messages and translate from Japanese into eight other languages.
The white plastic “c mask” fits standard face masks and connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone and tablet app that can transcribe speech into text messages, make calls, or amplify the voice of the user of the mask.
“We worked hard for years to develop a robot and have used that technology to create a product that responds to how the coronavirus has reshaped society,” said Taisuke Ono, CEO of Donut Robotics.
Donut Robotics engineers came up with the idea for the mask while searching for a product to help the company survive the pandemic. When the coronavirus arrived, it had just won a contract to supply robot guides and translators to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, a product facing an uncertain future after the collapse of air travel.
The first 5,000 Donut Robotics c-skins will ship to buyers in Japan starting in September, and Ono will also seek to sell in China, the United States, and Europe. There has been great interest, he said.
At approximately $ 40 per mask, Donut Robotics is targeting a mass market that didn’t exist until a few months ago. One goal, he said, is to generate revenue from the subscriber services offered through an app that users will download.
Donut Robotics built a prototype connected mask in a month by adapting the translation software developed for its robot and a mask design that one of the company’s engineers, Shunsuke Fujibayashi, created four years ago for a student project to interpret the speaks by mapping facial muscles.
Ono raised 28 million yen ($ 260,000) for development by selling shares of Donut Robotics through the Japanese crowdfunding site Fundinno.
“We raised our initial target of 7 million yen in three minutes and stopped after 37 minutes when we had reached 28 million yen,” he said.