Revolutionizing Tech for the Disabled: the Future of Inclusion
This episode of the Extreme Tech Innovatorspodcast series features a conversation with Eric Ju Yoon Kim, CEO and Founder of the 2021 Co-Winner of Extreme Tech Challenge, DOT Incorporated of Korea.
Eric launched DOT back in 2014 after having launched 3 startups on the American west coast while he was a student at the University of Washington in Seattle. Trendy apps of the moment left him feeling empty and purpose-less but his experience of living with disabled roommates in Seattle gave him insight into their unmet needs. After joining a church there and seeing a massive braille bible, he felt called to grapple with the unsolved problem of easy access to digital literacy for the world’s quarter-billion sightless people.
This required working with many engineering student and professor friends to innovate a much lower-cost and lighter approach to pixelating dots for a braille display, through the use of magnetoelectric micropistons rather than piezoelectric MEMS.
Being in the early 20-teens, the “smartwatch” presented itself as a minimum-first-product. Development proved more difficult than expected and they missed the market bubble by the time the Dot Watch was launched in 2018, but the watch garnered a glowing regional press review which then went viral globally, resulting in a flood of orders that allowed the business to bloom and raise the first million of venture capital. This enabled Eric to proceed with what he really wanted to do — create the current Dot Tablet, which looks roughly like a braille iPad or Kindle.
Serendipitously, at that moment, the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 R&D programme launched a competition for a tactile display for the vision-impaired to access the internet. DOT became a top finalist, which allowed them to build a working prototype. They then took that prototype to a large tradeshow in USA which caught the attention of the United States Department of Education, who ended up being this Korean start-up’s launch customer, with a $30-million order just 12 weeks ago, to be the sole supplier of braille tablet PCs for visually impaired students in USA. A great story that, even as a small start-up, you can “start global” and with careful attention and web-crawling, find opportunities across all continents.