SINGAPORE: From monitoring vital signs to filtering filthy air and even translating speech into other languages, the coronavirus-fuelled boom in mask-wearing has spawned an unusual range of high-tech face coverings.
As masks become the norm worldwide, tech companies and researchers are rolling out weird and wonderful models to both guard against infection and cash in on a growing trend.
One of the wackiest comes from Japan, where start-up Donut Robotics has created a face covering that helps users adhere to social distancing and also acts as a translator.
The "C-Face" mask works by transmitting a wearer's speech to a smartphone via an app, and allows people to have a conversation while keeping up to 10m apart.
"Despite the coronavirus, we sometimes need to meet directly with each other," Donut Robotics chief executive Taisuke Ono told AFP.
The lightweight silicone device could have immediate benefits for people such as doctors who want to communicate with patients from a distance, the company says.
It can translate speech from Japanese into English, Korean and other languages – a function that will become more useful once travel restrictions are eventually eased.
But it does not offer protection from COVID-19 on its own, and is designed to be worn over a regular face covering when it goes on sale in February for about 4,000 yen (US$40).
Donut Robotics raised nearly 100 million yen (US$950,000) via crowdfunding to develop it, a success Ono believes was driven by a desire for innovations to make life easier during the pandemic.
"We may be able to fight the virus with technology, with human wisdom," he said.
Another face mask developed in Singapore is aimed at protecting medics treating COVID-19 patients.
It has sensors that monitor body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen levels, and relay data to a smartphone via a Bluetooth transmitter.
"Many of these frontline workers will be exposed to patients when they are taking their vital signs," Loh Xian Jun, one of the scientists behind the invention, told AFP.
"This poses a health risk to the nurses, and we wanted to think about a way to reduce such risk."
Its inventors say the device could also monitor vital signs of migrant workers in crowdeRead More – Source
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Dozens killed in suspected jihadist attack in Niger
Dozens of people were killed in an attack in Niger on Saturday, in a suspected jihadist attack.
The attack took place around 12:00 CET in the Tchomo-Bangou village in Tillabéri, a western region bordering Mali.
“The assailants surrounded the village and killed up to 50 people,” a local radio journalist said anonymously. “The wounded have been evacuated to the hospital in Ouallam.”
It came on the day provisional results for the first round of the presidential election, held on December 27, were released.
Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate for the ruling Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) and a former interior minister, is in the lead with 39.3 per cent of the votes. Bazoum has vowed to strengthen the country’s fight against Islamist groups.
The second round of the election is to be held on February 21.
Niger has been a target for jihadist attacks for years, particularly in the western and southeastern parts of the country.
On December 21, six days before the presidential poll, seven soldiers were killed in Tillabéri. In May 2020, twenty people, including children, were also killed in two of the region’s villages.
Niger votes in presidential and legislative elections
People in Niger began voting in the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday.
Mohamed Bazoum, the right-hand man of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou is the favourite to win.
The sixty-year-old former interior minister is aiming for outright victory in the first round — something that no candidate has done before.
He’s focussing on security and education.
Over 7 million people are eligible to vote. But some voters, like Gambina Moumouni, simply want a president they can trust.
“We pray to Allah to choose us the president who has the most mercy for the people, a president who will not betray the country and who will not betray the trust of the people, that is our wish. It is also our wish that Allah may help to make the poor, the peasants, the (cattle) breeders happy.
Thirty candidates are standing including two former presidents and two former prime ministers, but according to seasoned observers in the region, the poll is arousing little enthusiasm among the population.
Niger is the world’s poorest according to the UN’s Human Development Index and also one of those hardest hit by climate change.
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