A South Korean entrepreneur has created the world’s first Braille smartwatch. After more than three years of development, the product will finally hit shelves this March.
Called ‘The Dot’, the slick timepiece promises to bring to blind customers the experience of a smartwatch. Equipped with diminutive pegs that rearrange themselves intelligently, the watch will provide text in Braille, the tactile reading and writing system used by people who are blind or visually-impaired.
The 27-gram watch connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth and can sync with any app or service. It has four dynamic Braille cells on its 43mm diameter surface, which means it can display four characters at a time.
Dot Incorporation founder and CEO Eric Kim got the idea during his studies at the University of Washington while watching a blind classmate carrying a large haul of books to class.
According to the official website, “He realized that, while most students were using tablet devices in class, this particular student wasn’t able to take advantage of the new technologies widely available.”
The project hit many delays since 2014, with concerns mainly around its durability since the tiny moving parts are exposed, and thus, are highly vulnerable. In 2015, Neva Fairchild, from the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) also had doubts about the design and spoke her mind to Fast Company.
“You could read [individual] letters fine. But most words are longer than 4 characters, so you’d get part of the word, then more.”
And she does have a point. If we do the math, a 140 character tweet will take 35 display refreshes to be read.
Questions aside, The Dot’s asking price of AUS$394 (US$300) is way less than the cost of a typical Braille display. Kim says the watch is just the first step in a wave of products to improve the lifestyle of blind consumers, especially those in developing markets.
Along those lines, the company signed a $1 million agreement with Kenya’s government for 8,000 units of its educational braille reader, the upcoming Dot Mini. The intention is to make them available to the African public for around AUS$263 (US$200) each.
Dot Incorporation also plans to collaborate with Google for a 2018 launch of a tactile Kindle-like reader dubbed the ‘Dot Pad’. The device will be able to display shapes and images using the same dynamic peg system.