Being blind in the age of smartphones and tablets must be incredibly frustrating. Now that nearly every device on the planet is touch screen, blind people of the world are being left in the dark. The World Health Organization estimates there are 285 million people worldwide with severe visual impairments — 39 million of those are completely blind. So, in this age of new, touch-screen technology, who’s looking out for the blind?

A South Korean startup called Dot decided to take matters into their own hands with an active Braille smartwatch that acts as a low-cost educational and communication tool. Literacy in the blind is a serious issue, as Braille education and materials are limited. Dot says that nearly 95 percent of all blind people give up trying to learn Braille. Some of the reasons for this, according to Dot, are that only one percent of the world’s books have been translated into Braille and Braille e-readers cost $2,000 and up.

Dot’s Braille smartwatch is affordable, coming in at a targeted price of under $300, which is on line with other smartwatches on the market. The smartwatch features a watch, alarm, messaging system, Bluetooth connectivity, and GPS navigation. It also acts as an e-reader and as a Braille teaching tool.

At first glance, the Braille smartwatch looks a little bit like a Fitbit, with a bulge in the wristband where the hardware module sits. The module houses four “cells” of six active dots, enough to display four Braille characters at once. The characters can be displayed at different speeds, depending on the skill of the reader, and the speeds range from 1-100 hertz. The battery life is 10 hours, which is about five days for an average user, according to Dot.

The device also uses haptic feedback, which is information displayed in real time through touch. When you link the smartwatch to any Bluetooth-capable device, like a smartphone, the smartwatch will be able to pull up text from different applications using voice commands.

“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,” Co-founder and CEO Eric Ju Yoon Kim explained to Tech in Asia. “Wouldn’t you rather read it yourself and hear your girlfriend’s voice saying it in your head?”

Dot has stepped outside of the wearable market to test its active Braille modules, specifically in things like ATMs and train stations. The modules can be programmed to display account informations or train schedule. “The Braille at ATMs currently tells you, ‘This is an ATM,’ which isn’t super helpful,” Kim said. “I think these sorts of public places, and the public sector in particular, could become our largest market in the future.”

Kim says that Braille literacy has fallen off the past half century because of the lack of effective educational tools. Kim hopes that Dot will be able to change that. “Ninety percent of blind people become blind after birth, and there’s nothing for them right now — they lose their access to information so suddenly,” he said. “Dot can be their lifeline, so they can learn Braille and access everyday information through their fingers, which is the goal of Braille literacy.”

The company is also working on a tablet that can display multi-line text, graphs, charts and more, things that wouldn’t be easy to understand on the smaller smartwatch. They are also working on native educational apps, which should be available as part of Dot’s next developmental phase.

Dot’s Braille smartwatch is available for preorder now and will hopefully be hitting stores in the U.S. and Canada by December.

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