Taisuke Ono (CEO)
Leaders stand apart from the crowd with their grit and gumption. When others choose to be bystanders in the face of a challenge, leaders front to take the bull by its horn and change the destiny of humanity. Perhaps this leadership trait is best demonstrated in the real world by Taisuke Ono, Founder and CEO of donut robotics. Heading this Tokyo–based company, Ono has aimed to solve social problems across hospitals, elderly facilities, airports, and commercial facilities with small, communication robots. Ono and his team at donut robotics have emerged as the champion of safe communication in today’s era of social distancing.
In 2017, donut robotics’ stars began to shine when the prototype of its omnidirectional robot, cinnamon, was selected by the Haneda Robotics Lab, an R&D arm of Japan Airport Terminal Co., Ltd. for one of their projects. The airport authorities aimed to address the lack of human resources caused due to aging population. Cinnamon was designed to approach tourists in the facility, converse with them using an AI system, and provide them with helpful information related to navigating the airport. The robot was one among three translation robot prototypes selected by the airport authorities for its appealing aesthetics, intuitiveness, and user-friendly design. More importantly, the translation software built into the system performed well in noisy environments. After a lot of experimentation, cinnamon was gradually gaining the support of airports and large corporations. The translation software uses machine learning developed with translation experts’ assistance and focuses on the Japanese language.
In the subsequent months, team donut robotics burned the midnight oil testing their prototype at Haneda Airport even as donut robotics conducted demonstration experiments among various quarters of different industries, including hospitals, patient care homes and other large enterprises from the hospitality sector. While donut robotics was busy taking its efforts to fruition, something strange was appearing on the international scene, including Japan. Come COVID-19, and the cinnamon project was put on the back burner. But the leadership of donut robotics was in no mood to give up on its aspirations to redefine the world.
The Rise of Smart Mask
With the COVID-19 pandemic came the limitless demand for face masks as governments and healthcare organizations globally made it mandatory to wear one.
Ono and his team at donut robotics have emerged as the champion of safe communication in today’s era of social distancing
donut robotics rose to the occasion by innovating C-FACE, a smart mask that acts as the high-tech upgrade of any face mask available in the market. Created out of the several brainstorming sessions of team donut robotics, C-FACE is designed to make communication and social distancing easier. Built using white plastic and silicone, C-FACE brought together cinnamon’s translation software and a mobile app. A microphone built into the smart mask connects to the wearer’s smartphone via Bluetooth. The Bluetooth chip can connect with mobile devices up to 10 meters away. Through the app, wearers’ voice can be amplified, and the speech can not only be transcribed but also translated into eight different languages. The languages that can be translated include Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, English, Spanish, and French. donut robotics is currently developing the translation app that can process more than 100 languages. The app will be released in the next few months. For places where physical communication is crucial, C-FACE proves to be valuable in enabling secure interactions. This is invaluable for elderly homes, hospitals, and care facilities.
“Due to the spread of novel coronavirus, it has become difficult for people to communicate because a splash prevention filter is required at a reception desk. By using C-FACE, it has become possible to have smooth and clear conversations,” says Shunsuke Fujibayashi, Engineer and Chief Designer (C-FACE) at donut robotics. Made with the cleanest of raw materials that have anti-bacterial properties, the smart mask also prevents a user from contracting or passing the virus to others. The smart mask wearers can send the stored and translated content to others depending on their regional location and languages by copying and pasting the data into any messaging services application such as SMS or e-mail.
Recognition and Roadmap Ahead
Unsurprisingly, Haneda Robotics Lab has been recognized with “Cool Japan Matching Award 2021 special award,” and donut robotics shared the recognition as an affiliated partner company. The award was jointly conferred to the robotics innovators in recognition for their active participation in public space infectious disease control through advanced communication robotics. For his contribution in research and development of the C-FACE Smart Mask, Shunsuke Fujibayashi won the Dean’s List, Grad. School of Information Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo, in March 2021.
In addition to C-FACE, donut robotics has added key home security features to its robot technology. The company is aiming to redefine the connection between serving robots and smartphones.
Initially operating from a small garage in Kitayashu City, Fukuoka Prefecture, in 2016, donut robotics moved its base to Tokyo in search of better business prospects and talent acquisition in 2018. “We want to release our smart mask globally and make it a necessary travel accessory that will transform the way people speak and understand each other,” mentions Fujibayashi.
donut robotics is gearing itself to conduct an IPO and is keen on the further development of existing and newer communications robotics technology that can effectively combat more inherent social issues such as efficient patient homecare. Along those lines, donut robotics is interested in an application update to its communication robotics technology to accommodate digital remote medical consultation. For example, with wearing a mask, doctors can fill out medical records and pharmacists can automatically enter drug history of patients. C-FACE’s new feature will allow early detection of variations in an individual’s health through their voice analysis.
A prolific entrepreneur, Ono has held various positions in many industry sectors as a product designer and marketing director. He experienced a lot of failures. Coming from a family with a lineage of great business leaders, Ono has managed to overcome the series of failures to bring beneficial changes to the society. “Born into this household, I thought about how I could contribute to the world 100 years from now and ventured into technologies such as robots and AI that could have a great impact,” concludes Ono.