“One of the greatest fears that I hear about, during my support groups with blind people is that they’re not going to be able to do the normal things, like get on Facebook, do texting, and then get messages and phone calls.” – Arturo Espinosa, Braille instructor
The Braille smartwatch has been designed to address particularly these problems faced by the community. The Dot connects to your tablet or phone via Bluetooth and displays messages through four braille characters at a time on its screen, allowing users to read simple texts and even operate apps (timer, alarm, stopwatch, gyroscope and accelerometer) through the device. Users can also enter commands or send texts using the side buttons on the watch.
Dot’s patented Active Braille Technology is based on solenoid multi-actuators controlling four Braille cells with 24 pins by magnetism instead of piezoelectricity as in other Braille devices. This has allowed makes to keep the size and design sleek and compact, additionally keeping prices as low as $290.
Too good to be true?
Despite the hype surrounding the Dot watch, touting it as the next big thing in Braille innovation, there is a very fundamental flaw in the design that a user has pointed out.
The Dot watch displays only 4 characters at a time, a trade-off owing to its small and sleek dial. Visually impaired or not, reading in such small pieces of text, essentially 4 letters at a time, is incredibly cumbersome, if not downright impractical. According to this account, a short, 140-character tweet would take 35 screen refreshes to read.
The author points out that currently available Braille readers offer displays of 12-14 characters per screen, and even that could prove tiresome for longer pieces of text. While Fairchild uses a 40 character display for her day-to-day work, she also points out that coders require a default 80 character display for their work.
Looking to the bright side
At the end of the day, the Dot watch is not for coders, or heavy-duty work. It’s a nifty time-device to have around, for quick notifications without one’s device constantly speaking up in public. The 4 character display can be worked around using shorthand techniques and efficient messaging, at the user’s discretion.
Nevertheless, the watch opens up a myriad of possibilities for similar Braille devices. Dot has already signed a $1 million agreement with Kenya’s government for an 8000 piece order of the Dot mini, an educational braille reader following the same technology, possibly priced at around $200.
Electronic braille readers and devices are most definitely the next steps for the B&VI community. If the rate of progression keeps up, the future is looking brighter by the minute.