Last week, the tech world was in a mild uproar when it was announced that a Japanese start-up had found a new use for face masks: making them instant translation machines.
Created by Donut Robotics, the C-Mask goes over a regular mask. Wearers then turn it on and connect it to an app on their phone. The next step is, simply, to speak. Based on what they’ve chosen in their settings, the mask will translate what they’ve said to either a text message or a vocalization – in one of nine languages.
Another useful option the mask offers is to keep what a person has said in their original language, but have the message transmitted clearly and audibly via their phone.
Donut Robotics was inspired to create the C-Face smart mask (often referred to as the “C-Mask”) when the coronavirus pandemic shut down airports, where they had been working on machine translation tools. The mask became a crowdfunding hit, and will be available in Japan in September, before launching in China, and then, at some point, the rest of the world.
The idea is incredibly practical – even the magnifying and clarifying of otherwise mask-muffled speech alone. But the question is, how well will it work?
Machine translation is far from flawless, and wearers having another mask to muffle their words beneath the C-Mask probably won’t make things easier. Add to that the fact that machine translation has difficulty translating things like humor and idiomatic expressions, and you start to wonder if the C-Mask will be a useful tool, or only create a lot of confusion?
Since the mask isn’t currently available, there are no reviews to go by, but taking all of this into account, it seems like it could be a helpful accessory for these crazy times, as long as it’s being used in a practical, predictable context – for instance, when paying for something at a store or checking into a hotel. But people hoping for a true Babel Fish will have to wait a little longer.
Still, who knows what will happen when the mask is released in September?
Read on to learn more about the C-Mask and what it may be able to do.
A drawing on Donut Robotics’ official site shows one way the mask might be used.
Contact Our Writer – Alysa Salzberg