Dot: A Smart Watch For The Blind

The current generation of phones have done a lot of work in the area of accessibility, but technology created exclusively for the needs of the visually impaired can be much more expensive and cumbersome. Dot is seeking to change that in more ways than one. The South Korean startup Dot has over 150,000 pre-orders for their Dot Watch. Supposedly, Stevie Wonder has even ordered the device which should retail for $300. With the Dot Watch, users will be able to read the time, set alarms and read messages on the 4 cells featuring pins that move up and down to create the letters, numbers, words and punctuation.

A Braille cell contains 6 dots, 2 vertical rows of 3 dots. Cells can be used to indicate numbers and the alphabet, but they can also represent words. Dot Watch Users will be able to adjust the speed in which the cells change in order to read longer texts. Visually impaired journalist Emma Tracey, told the BBC that reading an email wouldn’t be easy with only 4 cells. She also commented that if the Dot Watch tried navigation, it might be difficult to read the watch and hold a leash to a helping animal and/or a cane.

Aside from those challenges, the watch is a tremendous improvement when it comes to privacy or being less conspicuous. Current technology will read messages aloud for those who are visually impaired. Obviously, that can be disruptive in a library, or potentially embarrassing if I message you about my latest bowel movement. The Dot Watch would allow you to read those test results from your doctor, versus your phone or Apple Watch telling the entire café. Reading, rather than listening was one of the elements of their design that product testers really enjoyed.

Eric Kim, the CEO of Dot is also working on other applications for their haptic technologies. They’ve been experimenting with devices at ATMs & train stations which allow Braille readers to interact with information about their account, or train schedules and alerts. This is certainly an upgrade to the current Braille signage in public spaces, which is simply a label.

Inclusive Versus Universal

One of the more interesting things I learned when reading up on this new technology is how Braille literacy has declined in recent years. Thanks to OCR and other technologies, the visually impaired can consume print media without needing it converted to Braille. The American Printing House for the Blind reports that among children under the age of 21, 8.64% read Braille. The majority are “non-readers” and use print reading devices.

Therefore, I have to wonder how successful Dot will be as a startup. The popularity of voice assistant A.I. might be a much better option, or more universal. Android & Apple devices have this technology built in which means no additional cost to users who are visually impaired. Of course, the argument doesn’t work for those that are blind and deaf. Those individuals would greatly benefit from using Braille and the Dot Watch. Furthermore, as mentioned above, using the Dot Watch is a more private way to interact with your personal communications. Kim admits that it is an issue and Dot has announced that their next project will be a tablet which they hope can be used in Braille education.

Should you want to learn more about the smart watch or the company, check out the interview with Eric Kim over at Nikkei Asian Review. If you’re interested in purchasing the device, you can pre-order on their website.