Science, Tech & Environment

Imagine if you could tell the time by touch? Well, now you can.

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Watches designed for visually impaired people often look like any other watch. But they usually have a button on them that tells the time out loud.

It sounds like a robot. And the reason why blind people sometimes hate such a device is that it attracts attention to them. It’s like a holding up a giant spotlight to their disability.

But now there’s a new watch created by the company Eone Time to help people avoid the attention and just tell the time.

It’s winning praise for both its different looks and for its lack of sound.

It’s called the Bradley Timepiece. It uses magnets, and two moving ball bearings, to allow people to tell time by touch.

It’s named after retired US Navy Lt. Bradley Snyder. While serving in Afghanistan in 2011, he lost his sight in an IED explosion. He says that during his rehabilitation he found out that time is an integral part of life we often take for granted.

“Time is really the first thing you do when you wake up to orient yourself to you surroundings,” he says. “Without the ability to tell time I was often disoriented. It was hard for me to reconcile where I was, who I was and what was going on.”

Snyder says that early on his family looked for a timepiece he could use. They found a good one. But it was one that read the time aloud.

He didn’t like it. He didn’t need the reminder about his loss of vision. He was more a fan of devices and designs that are innocuous, or not noticeable.

So with the Bradley Timepiece, he’s able to tell the time without a sound.

“It doesn’t disrupt anyone,” he says.

Snyder joined the project through happenstance.

He had a friend going to business school at MIT. That friend heard about the timepiece project by Hyungsoo Kim. Soon the mutual friend put the two together. It clicked.

Snyder loved the idea of inclusive design, and Kim loved Snyder’s personal story.

“It bridges the gap between those with impairments and those without,” says Snyder. “And then the second story being my story. The background of how I lost my vision through a traumatic incident.”

He says they want the watch to tell a story. So when you put it on your wrist there’s a greater connection to it.

But all of this doesn’t matter if it’s impossible to tell time on the Bradley Timepiece.

Snyder says not to worry. It takes some practice, but soon it becomes second nature.

And even you can see, you don't need to in order to know the time.

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