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Brief Published: 29 Jul 2020

Covid-19 Triggers Innovation in Communication Devices

Tech innovations are solving communication issues in the era of social distancing

The C-Face mask and Relay walkie-talkie are the latest devices being leveraged to ease communication friction during social distancing. ­As discussed in Leisure & Wellness in Lockdown, helping consumers connect during the crisis marks a new window of opportunity for the tech industry.

This September, Japanese tech start-up Donut Robotics is launching C-Face, a Bluetooth-powered smart face mask which can translate the wearer’s speech into eight different languages in real time. It can also record conversations, amplify the wearer’s voice, make phone calls, and transcribe speech into texts, all while the user is wearing the mask – solving the issue of muffled speech in our new mask-wearing normal.

The C-Face sits over a standard fabric face mask and connects to the user’s smartphone via a paired app. Due to retail for ¥4,300 ($40), it will begin shipping in Japan, with plans to expand internationally. Donut Robotics’ crowdfunding campaign for the device raised ¥28m ($260,000) in under an hour – demonstrating the demand for communication-enhancing devices.

Similarly, New York-based initiative VoiceLove Project is helping to connect consumers physically separated by coronavirus. Since the onset of the pandemic, it has repurposed US communication company Relay’s walkie-talkies to help families communicate with Covid-infected loved ones hospitalised in intensive care units (ICUs).

Two NY doctors noticed that video chat was proving too traumatic for many families of ICU patients, while also increasing infection risks for nurses who’d have to assist with holding devices. The hands-free walkie-talkies (essentially a speaker that connects to a paired app, allowing family members to speak to patients at the touch of a button) free staff time, give the patient more independence, and allow anyone worldwide to contact a user.

So far, they’ve been used across 10 ICUs in New York. They retail at $100, with an additional $100 per year app subscription fee – but Relay has waived this cost for patients. Brands with existing connection-enabling technology could replicate this initiative and provide key communication streams for those who need them most during the pandemic.

For more ways in which the tech industry is helping consumers maintain physical distance while retaining social contact, see Enter EthiTech.

Donut Robotics C-Mask
Relay Walkie Talkie