Japanese startup Donut Robotics' CEO Taisuke Ono shows the c-mask and its mobile phone application. Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Japanese startup creates internet-connected face mask

By Tim Kelly and Akira Tomoshige

As face coverings 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 over standard face masks and connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone and tablet application that can transcribe speech into text messages, make calls, or amplify the mask wearer's voice.

"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," said Taisuke Ono, the chief executive of Donut Robotics.

Donut Robotics' engineers came up with the idea for the mask as they searched for a product to help the company survive the pandemic. When the coronavirus struck, it had just secured a contract to supply robot guides and translators to Tokyo's Haneda Airport, a product that faces an uncertain future after the collapse of air travel.

Donut Robotics' first 5,000 c-masks will be shipped to buyers in Japan starting in September, with Ono looking to sell in China, the United States and Europe too. There has been strong interest, he said.

At about $40 per mask, Donut Robotics is aiming at a mass market that did not exist until a few months ago. One aim, he said, is to generate revenue from subscriber services offered via an app that users will download.

Donut Robotics built a prototype connected mask within a month by adapting 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 speech by mapping face muscles.

Ono raised 28 million yen ($260,000) for development by selling Donut Robotics shares through Japanese crowdfunding site Fundinno.

"We raised our initial target of 7 million yen within three minutes and stopped after 37 minutes when we had reached 28 million yen," he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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What ?

6 ( +8 / -2 )


5 ( +8 / -3 )

Boy....They will try and sell anything

2 ( +6 / -4 )

I want to breath in all of the 5G goodness, I hear it's great for preventing covid-19. Joke aside, this could have some application. Maybe medical the medical field?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I want to breath in all of the 5G goodness...

I too would like to see more IoT medical appliances , i just don't see how attaching a mic and a speaker to a plastic that looks like a mask and translates kaka makes the cut. It is nonsense.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

A 4,300 yen machine that converts Japanese to gibberish, nice!

5 ( +7 / -2 )

As some above indicated this might have use in medical field & perhaps others, but I think I would rather be dead then see people wearing stuff like this on a daily basis from here onwards.....

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I'd like to see this in action before I make any judgments about its capabilities.

That the CEO thinks its great isn't enough. If it's as good as the CEO says it is, Japan's Eikaiwa industry is going to take a deep plunge into nothingness.

Perhaps JapanToday can do some investigative journalism, buy one, and let us know how it is? Or do we need to wait for GrapeRocketNewsToday?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

This mask doesn't do anything your current bluetooth headset doesn't already do when paired to your Android smartphone running Google translate. You can still wear your regular mask and use your Bluetooth headset in public but when you get home just wipe down your Bluetooth headset and use it at home without looking like a complete tool wearing a mask in your own home.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

use it at home without looking like a complete tool wearing a mask in your own home.

Who is going to see or even know?

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

How stupid.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

So many fingers in the corona money-pie...

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Who is going to see or even know?

Only you if you are single...

If you have little dignity left, it's no big deal...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yes, corona became a BIG business opportunity!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This explains why start-ups and venture capital are almost non-existent in Japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Like dogs wearing a muzzle.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

If it comes with a Darth Vader voice effect. I’m in. 8 languages! woh

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Yeah, the Darth Vader effect would be good. But, the "lost in translation" is surely going to be interesting to watch.....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Was just about order until I read

One aim, he said, is to generate revenue from subscriber services offered via an app that users will download.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Please make them all wear a mask so I don't have to see human emotionless empty sad fear driven faces. Thankx you Corona

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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