A South Korean startup has created an active Braille smartwatch for the visually impaired that can be read by touch. Aptly named Dot, the wearable relays the time with a set of pins that rise and fall. Users will be able to receive and read text messages in real time, read e-books and even learn Braille.
When it comes to watches for the visually impaired, there’s not a lot on offer (though we did look at one that uses magnetic ball bearings to indicate time). There aren’t many devices that use real-time Braille text – and the ones that do typically cost thousands of dollars.
Dot, its creators claim, is the first affordable smartwatch for the visually challenged that uses haptic technology. Twenty four active pins on its surface, spread across four cells, allow it to display four Braille characters at a time. The smartwatch lets users read information in real-time by linking to any of their Bluetooth-enabled devices.
For instance, when a user receives a text message on their mobile phone, an app translates it into Braille and sends it to the smartwatch via Bluetooth. Dot’s internal vibrator motor alerts the user to the message or notification and the display automatically shifts from telling time to displaying the notification. Pins corresponding to the pattern protrude from Dot’s surface, allowing users to read the information with their fingertips. Their reading speed, the company says, is customizable.
"You can adjust the speed of the Braille output through the dials on the side of the watch," Daniel Koh, Head of Media Relations at Fingerson, tells Gizmag. "With four cells, there’s a limit to the number of words being displayed at a time. However, unlike modern refreshable braille displays, which read one line at a time, the 'active braille display' is utilized to make braille automatically pass by in the user’s hand as if it were an escalator."
Since reading long paragraphs on a four-cell Braille device might get tedious, Dot plans to create a Braille Pad next that’s more suited to reading ebooks.
Apart from relaying information, the smartwatch can also help users learn Braille with a sound-Braille sync function. For instance, if an app on a mobile device reads out the letter "p," Dot will display the same letter in Braille. Koh says that they plan to expand this feature and add more functionality to offer a comprehensive learning experience.
The company’s founders also have plans to create a public module that integrates the core Braille technology into machines like ATM’s and information kiosks at transit stations and public places. For instance, a module installed on a train could let visually challenged users know which station they’re currently at. A public module installed at a government building might tell blind visitors where rooms are located and how to navigate to the right one. The overall aim is to help people living with vision impairment achieve higher levels of independence.
"Only 5 percent of blind people worldwide have the privilege [of] devices with refreshable braille displays because of issues involving the technology and price," says Koh. "With our technology we want to try and reduce the invisible discrimination against blind people in information accessibility."
The company plans to manufacture 3,000 Dot’s by December and launch it in the United States initially for a price below US$300. They’re currently working with various distributors to make it available globally.