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This Braille smartwatch could unlock the digital world for the visually impaired

The tiny screen on a smartwatch can be maddeningly difficult to read even for someone with 20/20 vision, so for anyone with visual impairments, models like the popular Apple Watch or LG Watch Urbane definitely aren’t an option. Enter Dot, a smartwatch created by a South Korean startup that finally gives the visually impaired a way to access digital information.

With the ability to relay text messages, set alarms, and read location directions, it has pretty standard feature set. What’s different about the Dot, though, is how it communicates such notifications to the user: using Braille. Four sets of six dots raise and lower at speeds of up to 100 times per second in order to produce four Braille characters at a time. If that’s too quick, the watch can also slow all the way down to one Braille character per second. It’s supposed to be good for 10 hours of usage per charge, but Kim said average users would only have to charge the smartwatch every five days.

Combined with a vibration motor inside, the Dot can alert users of incoming notifications, which are sent to the watch through Bluetooth from a phone. According to Dot co-founder and CEO Eric Ju Yoon Kim, the Dot was created in order to offer a more intimate wearable for the visually impaired.

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“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,” the Kim told Tech in Asia. “Wouldn’t you rather read it yourself and hear your girlfriend’s voice saying it in your head?”

With the Dot, Kim also hopes to increase Braille literacy among the blind, the low rate of which Kim attributes to the lack of effective educational tools.

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“90 percent of blind people become blind after birth, and there’s nothing for them right now — they lose their access to information so suddenly,” said Kim. “Dot can be their lifeline, so they can learn Braille and access everyday information through their fingers, which is the goal of Braille literacy.”

Ultimately, Kim wants to implement the same technology used by Dot into other products, such as microwaves, rice cookers, and ATMs. For now, however, his company aims to launch the Dot smartwatch this December for under $300, if it manages to secure $1 million during its second round of funding in August.