From the Department of Adapting to the Moment comes a smart face mask (that is not really a face mask) that can transcribe speech and translate it into eight different languages.
The C-FACE mask is equipped with an embedded microphone that can transmit the wearer’s speech to their smartphone via Bluetooth. On the phone, an app transcribes the speech and can translate it between Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, English, Spanish and French. The creators of the device, Donut Robotics, claim that their machine learning-based translation software is superior to the alternatives for Japanese speakers. They note that most translation software is designed to translate to and from English.
The holes on the front of the mask are necessary for proper operation, so it will not help to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Donut Robotics recommends wearing another mask underneath C-FACE for that purpose.
Wearing masks and placing partitions between individuals can make communication difficult. By connecting C-FACE to devices such as tablets, with larger screens, there are opportunities to improve these communication problems through the transcription feature. This type of setup could be useful for interactions with grocery store cashiers and company receptionists, for example. Most impressively, not only can the limitations imposed by physical barriers be overcome, but through the translation feature, language barriers can also be overcome.
The C-FACE software was originally designed for another device — a robot named Cinnamon. Cinnamon was designed to assist travelers by providing helpful information and helping them navigate Japanese airports. COVID-19 halted progress on Cinnamon and left Donut Robotics in a difficult position and running short on cash. This was when their team reimagined a use for their technology that would have applications during the pandemic. Below you will find a video that Donut Robotics has created to demonstrate the functionality of C-FACE.
In the present environment, building a translator into a face mask will certainly garner some attention. But aside from the novelty, this device may be better suited to being built into a smaller package — especially when considering that the mask is non-functional.