How the Dot braille smartwatch could keep the visually impaired connected

A smartwatch with a unique interface is able to translate basic notifications for blind users by dynamically reproducing braille on its specialized surface — helping them stay connected in our modern digital world. The Dot has been in development for the past couple of years, but mass production has finally begun, with the first orders set to ship out in April.

Although braille has been a useful tool for those with limited vision for close to 200 years, in an age of touchscreens and smart devices, many of the world’s millions of visually impaired can be left out of the loop. Among a few other pioneering devices, the Dot is designed to fix that with a clever interface that combines modern computing with an intuitive, touch-sensitive braille interface.

The display has four braille cells, made up of 36 magnetically actuated ‘dots’ designed to convey information, along with 24 touch sensors to allow input by the user. That means that as the user reads the letters displayed by the braille cells, they can automatically refresh to keep the flow of text coming.

All of that is contained within a 1.7-inch watch display, giving users the ability to tell the time and set alarms like a normal watch. This being a smart watch though, it also has social features. It can receive notifications from social media and text messages, give directions, and send other information using its companion application.

There are also two buttons on the side of the device that allow more advanced control and the ability to send messages of their own.

The Dot is designed as an open system, so the developers hope that other companies and individuals will develop new abilities for it, expanding its function for its growing user base. As of now, 140,000 people have already pre-ordered the Dot (thanks BigThink), with the first shipments of the English and Korean language version shipping out on April 1.

Potential buyers in the future can expect to spend $290 on each Dot.

Support is likely to continue in the years to come, as we’re told that parent company Dot Inc. has received more than $5 million in developmental funding from interested parties and has secured more than 30 related patents.

Already looking to the future, the Dot developers have created a braille reading device designed to sell for under $200 called the Dot Mini, aimed at developing markets where support for the visually impaired is far less robust than in developed nations. To that end, it has partnered with the Korea International Cooperation Agency to supply 8,000 of its Dot Mini reader devices to the visually impaired in Kenya.

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