Image credit: DOTS | Official Website
From 3-D printed ultrasounds that help blind mothers “see” their babies to Legos that translate digital text into braille, to “smart” canes that guide people with ultrasound waves, technology for the visually impaired has evolved by leaps and bounds in the last year alone. Now the smartwatch is finally catching up and it’s about time.
Meet Dot, a new smartwatch for that blind that delivers texts in beautiful rippling bursts of braille. The innovative wearable also tells the time, imparts turn-by-turn directions and serves up entire ebooks, all by touch alone. Pretty cool, right?
Four student entrepreneurs designed and built the groundbreaking assistive tech gadget, and they recently launched it from their outpost in Seoul, South Korea.
“Just like an Apple Watch or Pebble, it’s a smartwatch,” says Dot co-founder and CEO Eric Ju Yoon Kim. “But it has a display with braille, so visually impaired people all over the world can communicate with the world in their hands.”
Why it’s special
Kim claims the haptic smartwatch is the first of its kind. Before Dot, there were mainly only two basic timepiece options for the blind — talking or tactile. Typically reporting just the time (and ranging between around $50 and $300), neither type delivers even close to Dot’s functionality and freedom.
“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,” Kim told Tech In Asia. “Wouldn’t you rather read it yourself and hear your girlfriend’s voice saying it in your head?” Yes, please, anything but the cold, robotic jibber jabber of Siri, especially when it comes to sweet nothings from your nearest and dearest.
How it works
To spell out words and numbers, 24 rounded magnetic metal pins embedded in the face of the slender, Fitbit Flex-reminiscent wristlet rhythmically move up and down. Users simply slide a finger across the four rows of the rounded pegs to tell the time, read texts, feel scheduled alarms and more. Using voice commands, they can prompt Dot to deliver messages from apps like iMessage from any Bluetooth-connected device.
Users can also customize the speed at which the mechanized display undulates, from one hertz to an incredibly brisk 100 hertz. Plus, with a battery life of 10 or so hours, the smartwatch can conveniently go up to five days before needing a recharge.
Cost and availability
Dot is expected to retail for less than $300 in the U.S. this December. That’s thousands of dollars cheaper than the heavy, USB plug-in electronic refreshable braille displays that many visually impaired individuals commonly use today. Pre-orders for up to 10,000 units are currently being taken on the device’s website.
With its unprecedented portability and affordability, Dot opens the visually impaired up to a whole new world of real-time mobile communication, one that Kim and his colleagues hope will help finally put an end to “information discrimination.”