I recently read about a smartwatch researchers had developed at IIT Kanpur. This watch gave feedback via haptics that is by touch.
They gave me a chance to test the prototype and I am writing this article with their permission. Be warned, this unit is not commercially available.
Why the watch
My first question was why a specialized gadget for the blind? So many mainstream watches work. The answer was one I should have expected. “cost”. The watch that has been created costs several orders of magnitude less than existing watches.
Mind you, this is an accessible smartwatch so not only can the blind use it but it is one of the few smartwatches that the deaf blind can use out of the box.
How does it work?
This is where the real innovation begins.
- The face of the watch has 12 tactile markers that vibrate and also respond to pressure.
- You move your finger along the face of the watch just like you do in a tactile Braille watch.
- As you move your finger to each marker, it vibrates corresponding to the time. Two long vibrations means that that marker represents hours.
- Two short vibrations means that that marker corresponds to the minutes.
- Let me illustrate this with an example. Suppose the time is 03:20, then you move your finger to the 3 o-clock position on the face and feel two long vibrations. You move further to the marker corresponding to 20 and feel two short vibrations.
- What about a time like 3:19? You will feel the 2 short vibrations on the marker corresponding to the number 15 and if you want a greater resolution, you long press the marker and then count the number of vibrations such that in our example, you will feel 4 of them that is 15+4=19.
You may be wondering what about other features like heart rate monitoring?
You invoke the menu by pressing the crown or at least that is how it is planned. You then have haptic icons. E.G., for measuring your heart rate, when you place your finger on that marker, which is at the 12 o-clock position, you feel the vibration like a heartbeat. That is a haptic icon for you.
The same applies to other functions like measuring your breath.
Another area which this watch shines is that there is no need for a mobile phone to configure its basic functions. A mobile app is in the works however, all the functions can be configured directly from the watch.
The road ahead
The researchers would like to do more tests and are keen to meet potential users across India. IN addition, they are also talking to manufacturers to bring the watch to market.
It is possible to attach a speaker as well but as of this writing, this has not been done.
My thanks to Professor Siddhartha Panda and Vishwaraj Srivastava, the creators of the watch for answering my e-mails, questions and facilitating my seeing the watch.