This smartwatch for the blind displays braille in real time

In the past decade, we’ve seen the interfaces of our phones and watches transform from button-strewn slabs to sleek touchscreens, which has opened up new world of delivering information in real time. In this age of digital text, however, those with visual impairments are increasingly being left behind.

Korean startup Dot is making moves to address this issue with a smartwatch designed specifically for blind users. The Dot smartwatch looks like a cross between a Fitbit and a Pebble Time. In place of a standard watch face, though, sits a module housing four cells of six active dots – enough for four braille characters to be formed at any one time.

By linking up to a device with Bluetooth connectivity, the Dot smartwatch can turn text into a rolling wave of braille characters at a speed of between 1-100Hz. In constant use, the battery life of the Dot is reported to last for 10 hours, which should give average users about five days between charging.  

“Until now, if you got a message on iOS from your girlfriend, for example, you had to listen to Siri read it to you in that voice, which is impersonal,” Dot CEO Eric Ju Yoon Kim told Tech in Asia. “Wouldn’t you rather read it yourself and hear your girlfriend’s voice saying it in your head?”dot smartwatch

The active braille technology at the heart of the smartwatch is similar to that used in braille ebook readers, with the most significant difference being the price. For example, the Braille Sense U2 MINI, which supports Twitter, Dropbox and Excel, costs more than £2,500. When it launches in the US in December, however, the Dot smartwatch will reportedly cost less than $300 (£193).

The development of virtual reality has led to growing interest in haptic technology – which recreates the sense of touch through tactile feedback. While Dot’s work has clear implications for those with visual impairments, it will be interesting to see if the company applies its work to other products in the future.   

Regardless, a smartwatch for the blind is an example of real innovation and could do great things for a demographic that’s largely ignored by the Silicon Valley giants. The Korean company is planning to launch in the US and Canada in December with 10,000 smartwatches, with plans to expand into Japan and China.

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