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Many of us rely on various forms of touch screens to access our information every day, but very few of these technologies take into account the needs of the blind. South Korean tech start-up Dot aims to address this critical gap in digital information accessibility by developing the first-ever braille smartwatch.
“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,” 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?”
Smartwatch sales have soared 475 percent in the last year alone, largely due to Apple Watch, but no such watch exists for the visually impaired.
Dot’s new wearable has a sleek white wristband with a smooth open face, upon which four cells comprised of six dots align in a vertical column. These dots emerge or retract to form four braille letters at a time, and can be synced via Bluetooth to translate text from iMessage or other apps in compliance with voice commands.
According to Dot’s creators, 95 percent of blind people give up on learning to read braille because of two predominate factors: that an astonishingly low one percent of books are actually translated into braille, and that digitized braille readers cost upwards of $2,000 USD.
For most blind people, then, the act of reading becomes a luxury they simply cannot afford. Dot aims to help the visually impaired to overcome the barriers excluding them from digital communication by delivering technological literacy to their fingertips for only $300 USD.
“Ninety percent of blind people become blind after birth,” said Kim, “and there’s nothing for them right now–they lose their access to information so suddenly.”
The product will be supported by both iOS and Android, and can last on a single charge for up to five days on end.
Some journalists have been quick to point out that the Dot watch is too small to have any real benefit to braille readers–after all, how many people process words four characters at a time?
But the Dot watch is only the company’s first step in democratizing digital information. They are currently in the process of adapting the braille system implemented in the watch for a Dot e-reader pad.
Regardless of whether users rely on the smartwatch for its data-display capabilities or simply for telling time, it represents an important evolution in wearable technology that creates space for more intuitive and, ultimately, more inclusive design.