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Japanese startup creates "connected" face mask, which can talk to your phone and amplify your voice

Tony Nguyen Tony Nguyen

June 27, 2020 | 14:44

Face masks are here to stay for the foreseeable future as the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, a Japanese startup named Donut Robotics has developed a way to turn the ubiquitous coronavirus face mask into the latest tech gadget.

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Japanese startup Donut Robotics' c-mask and its mobile phone application during a demonstration in Tokyo, Japan June 23. Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Reuters recently reported that Japanese startup Donut Robotics has developed an Internet-connected "smart mask" for coronavirus new normal 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.

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Japanese startup Donut Robotics' CEO Taisuke Ono wears a c-mask as he demonstrates the connected face masks messaging function with his chief engineer, Takafumi Okabe, during a demonstration in Tokyo. Photo: Reuters

"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 CEO of Donut Robotics with Reuters.

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 Cinnamon robot guides and translators to Tokyo's Haneda Airport, a product that faces an uncertain future after the collapse of air travel.

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The mask applied a feature Donut originally developed for its Cinnamon robot. Photo: donutrobotics

Donut will soon open up preorders for Japan at a price of around $40. The company expects to ship the masks later this year. Customers in other parts of the world will have to wait, though Ono told Reuters he'd like to sell the device in other countries including "China, the United States, and Europe" since there has been strong interest, he said.

According to CNET, face masks are necessary, but they can be inconvenient when it comes to using our smartphones like normal. Perhaps the c-mask would cut down on the number of people pulling down their face masks to talk into their phones.

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The c-mask smart mask connects to a phone via Bluetooth. Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

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Tony Nguyen