New Face Mask Add-On Translates Speech in Nine Languages
Japanese tech startup Donut Robotics is augmenting face masks necessary during the current COVID-19 health crisiswith translation technology. The new “c-mask” device fits over a regular cloth mask and translates Japanese speech into eight other languages, transmitting text or audio to a smartphone.
The c-mask is made of white plastic and hooks around the cloth of a mask being worn already. Using Bluetooth, the mask accesses Donut’s app on a smartphone or tablet. Microphones in the c-mask then pick up what the wearer says and send the transcription to the mobile device. The app then translates the words and speaks them aloud or shows it as text. Wearers can also forego the translation in favor of sending texts or making calls in their own language. It can also be used simply to clarify what they said in case it came out muffled behind their mask.
Donut Robotics decided to build the masks after the coronavirus pandemic began. The company had signed a deal to provide robot guides and translators at a Tokyo airport, but the decrease in air travel after COVID-19 started spreading made the future of that contract less certain. he masks use a variation of the software for the robot and cost around $40. Donut set up a crowdfunding project for the c-masks on Fundinno and hit their seven million yen ($65,000) goal in three minutes. They ended the campaign after 37 minutes and 28 million yen ($260,000). The first 5,000 Japanese buyers will get their masks in September, but global interest in the masks could see them start to be sold in other countries as well. You can see a demo of the mask in the video below.
A mask that translates languages goes well with some of the other creative ideas for using voice and AI technology people have come up with during the pandemic, albeit one of the more potentially profitable ones. For instance, video game designer Tyler Glaiel recently shared how he designed and built a mask with a voice-activated panel of LED lights that can mimic someone talking or smiling. Using a microphone, LED lights, and a mini-computer and costing about $50, his mask design brings an element of non-verbal communication to a time when people can’t see each other’s full face.
Taking on another front of the current situation, the overwhelming number of video meetings over Zoom many people face, Creative technologist Matt Reed built AI-powered clone named Zoombot. Zoombot uses speech recognition and text-to-speech to respond to common questions and comments from his colleagues during meetings. The digital clone also includes a video component that rotates through several images of Reed at his computer to mimic a bad connection. Shifting priorities and new demands make it likely that there will be plenty more commercial applications of voice tech to help people cope with the limits in their lives as a result of the virus.