Paul Muddha is one of the 60 million visually impaired in India. But unlike 95% of the visually impaired, Paul is among the lucky ones to have learnt braille and received an education, all the way up to an MBA. He also became the first visually impaired person to become manager at a bank. He is testimony that the visually impaired can receive quality education and secure quality jobs.
But not everyone is as fortunate as Paul to be able to learn braille. Braille books are often bulky and expensive. Printing of braille books needs an embosser, which is very often expensive. Being bulky, they cannot be carried around easily. To put this into perspective, the Bible in braille is 26 volumes and nearly two meters long.
But what if all of the 26 volumes of the Bible in braille, along with several other topics and subjects, could be loaded into one tab. Or what if, instead of voice notifications, the phone could send notifications to a watch, which a visually impaired person could read in braille?
That is where Dot comes in.
South Korea-based startup Dot makes innovative solutions for the visually impaired. It has created products that are affordable and smaller in size, thus easier to carry.
The first product launched by Dot is the Dot Smartwatch, which it claims is the world’s first braille smartwatch.
The Dot Smartwatch lets the visually impaired receive real time information from their phone, such as notifications, text messages, Facebook messages and more, in braille.
“When there is a notification on the phone, the smartwatch vibrates, and the user can select and read the message in braille. This way, the visually impaired can be connected just like you and me. That’s the goal of the smartwatch,” says Jimin Ryu, Manager, global partnerships.
How it works
Dot has developed a mechanism where there are four motorised modules under the watch’s dial and each module has six possible dots. The cell, manufactured in-house, is the main component of the watch that makes the dots go up and down. Each dot is capable of moving up and down individually to display up to four characters at a time. Just as it could be read on paper, the user can read braille on the smartwatch’s dial.
Dot has also developed its own text-to-braille engine. This is the technology that converts every text message or notification received on the phone, from English or any other language, into braille on the smartwatch.
The smartwatch not only gives the visually impaired notifications, but also helps you read news, check the weather and control home appliances.
Dot was recently in India as part of Hyderabad-based startup engine T-Hub’s India Market Access program, which brings international startups to India, and guides them on product and business model localisation, cultural immersion, client exposure and hands-on client access. This allows international startups to find their first paying Indian clients, before branching fully into the Indian market.
Why is Dot looking at India?
Jimin says that India is the largest market for Dot and that it wants to bring its products to help improve the literacy rates of the 60 million visually impaired in the country.
While the braille smartwatch is its entry product, the main product Dot is developing for the Indian market is an educational Kindle-like device, which is the equivalent of a braille book. A device that looks like a tab, it has the provision to read braille on it.
“Users can navigate, select a book, and read the book in braille. It’s like a self-learning device. The visually impaired can have all the books that they want to read on this one device,” Jimin says. The technology is similar to that of the braille smartwatch and the device also has the braille-to-English engine.
Braille is different for every language. Currently, Dot offers Korean, English and German, and is in the processing of developing Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese versions as well.
The braille smartwatch is priced at $300. For the Kindle-like device, which also costs $300, Dot wants to take a B2B route in India, and is in the process of looking for sponsors, partners and any form of strategic alliances.
In fact, Dot will be working closely with Snehadeep Trust, a non-profit run by Paul Muddha in Bengaluru. Jimin says given that Paul understands the value of braille, they will be working with him to bring in sponsorships and partnerships.
But this is just the beginning for Dot. It is working on introducing a range of products, including a Pad, which will have enhanced features to let the visually impaired see shapes, sizes and more.
Jimin says that while there are many working in the space of making braille affordable for the visually impaired, the efforts have mostly been around making old technology cheaper. What Dot has done, according to her, is develop a new extremely affordable technology that can be mass-produced.
Dot has just begun shipping to the US and will soon start retailing its products in India, its biggest market.
It has one goal – to make more and more people learn braille. It wants to increase the literacy rate among the visually impaired to 30% in the short run, and in the long learn completely remove illiteracy.