Japanese Robotics Startup Develops Smart Mask for Voice-to-Text Translations

Health officials worldwide are recommending mask-wearing as a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19--and a Japanese robotics startup found opportunity in that recommendation. Donut Robotics has created what is being billed as the world's first a "smart mask," an enhanced face covering that provides voice-to-text translations of eight languages, including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, English, Spanish, and French.

The C-Face mask was developed with the same technology used to deliver voice commands to the company's "Cinnamon" communications robot. The thin plastic-and-silicon mask was designed to fit over a standard, commercially available medical mask. The wearer speaks into the mask, and his/her words appear in text on another person's smartphone via Bluetooth. The mask can also initiate phone calls and amplify the user's voice. The mask currently provides only this voice-to-text translation capability, but the company says it plans to expand its feature set to include image systems, such as AR and VR.

"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," CEO Taisuke Ono told Reuters.

The C-Face mask itself was not designed to protect against the coronavirus.

Donut Robotics was founded in 2014 in a garage in Fukuoka, Japan, a city on the norther shore of the island of Kyushu. The company's stated mission is to build robots that solve social problems, while creating a new robotics platform. It's vaguely humanoid robot, Cinnamon, was
selected for Haneda Airport Robot Project. "By 2050, we want to change the world with conscious humanoid robots," the company said on its website.

The delivery date for the first 5,000 C-Face masks to buyers in Japan is sometime in September. China, Europe, and the U.S. are next. The masks are priced at $40 a piece.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at