Japanese startup creates "connected" face mask for coronavirus new normal
By Tim Kelly and Akira Tomoshige
TOKYO (Reuters) - As face covering becomes the norm in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese startup Donut Robotics has developed an Internet-connected "smart mask" that can transmit messages and translate them 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 convert speech into text messages, make calls or amplify the voice of the mask wearer.
"We have worked hard for years to develop a robot and we have used this technology to create a product that responds to how the corona virus has changed society," said Taisuke Ono, CEO of Donut Robotics.
Donut Robotics engineers came up with the idea for the mask when they were looking for a product that would help the company survive the pandemic. When the corona virus broke out, it had just signed a contract to supply robot operators and translators to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, a product that faces an uncertain future after the collapse of air traffic.
The first 5,000 C-Masks from Donut Robotics will be delivered to buyers in Japan from September. Ono also plans to sell them in China, the United States and Europe. There was a lot of interest, he said.
With around $ 40 per mask, Donut Robotics is targeting a mass market that didn't exist until a few months ago. One goal is to generate revenue from subscriber services that are offered through an app that users will download.
Donut Robotics built a prototype bonded mask within a month by customizing the translation software and mask design developed for its robot that one of the company's engineers, Shunsuke Fujibayashi, created four years ago for a student project on language interpretation by mapping facial muscles would have.
Ono raised 28 million yen ($ 260,000) for development by selling Donut Robotics shares through the Japanese crowdfunding site Fundinno.
"We raised our original target of 7 million yen in three minutes and stopped after 37 minutes when we reached 28 million yen," he said.
($ 1 = 107.2000 yen)
(Reporting by Tim Kelly and Akira Tomoshige. Editing by Gerry Doyle)
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