A new 'smart' face mask can translate speech into eight languages

Young female backpacker checking her train arrival on a digital timetable board.
The masks will protect travelers and help them communicate ©thianchai sitthikongsak/Getty Images

A Japanese robotics startup has released what it’s calling the ‘world’s first smart mask’ that both protects during a pandemic and translates into eight languages, making communication easier when your face is partially covered. 

Dubbed ‘C-FACE’, the plastic smart mask is placed on the outside of a standard sized mask and connects to the wearer’s smartphone using Bluetooth and transcribes conversations through an app. At the moment, the mask translates from Japanese into Chinese, English, French, Indonesian, Korean, Spanish, Thai and Vietnamese. The mask also helps amplify the user’s voice through their phone.

Just before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the company, called Donut Robotics, had secured an agreement with Haneda Airport in Tokyo to supply robots to supply tourist information and translations, but with air travel still uncertain, the company pivoted to tech that would be beneficial to people in an era of social distancing and the worldwide adoption of mask wearing.

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The mask connects via Bluetooth to your smartphone ©LDprod/Shutterstock

The smart mask has already sparked huge interest, raising more than US$260,000 in crowdfunding in just 37 minutes. The company is thinking about adding augmented reality and virtual reality components in later versions, meaning it will be easier to translate from images.

The masks are available for about US$40, and the app’s translation services are available through a monthly subscription. The first masks will be available in Japan in September, with orders shipping to Europe, the United States and China soon after.

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