Donut Robotics

A new smart mask can translate eight languages and transcribe notes

The science is clear on just how essential face masks are in slowing the spread of coronavirus, and in most places around the country they are a ubiquitous presence on city streets. But plain face masks can be so, well, plain. Health conscious, fashion-forward folks have started designing masks to add a bit of flair to our pandemic wardrobes, but that's not enough for some entrepreneurial minds, and so a group of tech engineers have come up with the first smart mask.

The C-Face Smart Mask, designed by Japanese robotics startup Donut Robotics, picks up the voice of its wearer and can translate it to eight different languages including Japanese, English, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, French, and Spanish. The mask, which is a rubbery shell-like covering that slips over a standard face mask, will also be able to transcribe your conversation onto your smartphone or act as some kind of walkie-talkie. It's primarily intended for workers who have to speak with customers or patients.

Donut Robotics

"It's hard to hear what customers at the cash register of supermarkets and convenience stores are saying because there are partitions to prevent droplets," Taisuke Ono, CEO of Donut Robotics, told CNN. "By wearing this mask, it can improve these communications by transcribing the conversations on smartphones or delivering the sound of the voices."

The mask connects through phones using Bluetooth technology and relies on an app with machine learning capabilities to translate languages as accurately as possible.

Poor robot engineers./Donut Robotics

The cost of the mask is estimated at around $38. Although that might seem low, a promotional video for the C-Face mask notes that there will be a monthly fee for translation services, which has yet to be priced. The masks will be available in Japan by December, and the company plans to use Kickstarter to bring the masks to the U.S. sometime in 2021.

"We still have many situations where we have to meet in person," Ono explained to CNN, noting the mask's possible use in hospitals, where clear communication is important. "In this new normal ... the mask and the app are very helpful."