Web2Summit: Backstage with Rob Currie of Dash

Rob Currie and Mark Williamson of Dash, the internet-connected GPS, are on stage at the Web 2.0 Summit. They’re explaining just what the benefits are of internet connection, how it transforms the GPS in-car experience: dash express

  1. Traffic data is real time, routing paths are crowdsourced based on historical and current patterns.
  2. Searches for restaurants, hotels, etc. are live, not immediately out of date.
  3. The Dash can pull data from internet mashups (Platial gets a shout-out) and even sites like upcoming.org: find me jazz music tonight close to where I am.

But perhaps even wilder: I’m driving through a neighborhood, and wonder how much the houses cost. Zillow data comes right in. Or build a custom RSS feed of real estate open houses on Craigslist, send the feed to the dash, and have a built in routing list. They’ve already got a great set of demo mashups (or perhaps we can call them “dashups.” I expect to see a lot more.

There are three types of search: specific locations (Starbucks), types of locations (coffee), and, surprisingly, specific products. During the beta period, they were surprised to find things like “ipod” in their top 50 searches.

From the applause, it was clear that everyone in the audience was as impressed as I was. In fact, as they came off, I turned to John and said, “Do we waste them now and take their demo units, or wait till they’re available in a couple of months.” This is the most drool-worthy device since the iPhone.

(There’s more information about the Dash in a post from Brady last month.)

Backstage, while Rob and Mark were waiting to go on, the conversation was even more interesting. It’s easy to think about this as “a GPS.” But when I asked about the hardware, and discovered that it was based on openmoko, the open source linux-based phone infrastructure, my ears really perked up. At bottom, this is a PHONE, and that tells us something very interesting about the future of the phone, with more and more devices with phone functionality that don’t actually look or act like phones. It’s also a full linux computer. Let your imagination be the guide.

This gives me a whole other perspective on openmoko. I had seen a couple of openmoko phone prototypes, and I thought, these are never going to get the fit and finish of commercial phones. But wow, does the Dash highlight the power of open source, allowing for innovation that you’d never expect.

“This is a sit-back, 65-mile an hour phone,” Rob said. It uses wifi to download updated data when you pull into your garage, but on the road, its internet connectivity is GPRS. Even more interesting, once there are enough Dash-enabled cars on the road, it uses mesh connectivity between them to improve the routing and traffic data.

And all that data is being collected.

The Dash highlights one of the major themes I outlined in my opening to the conference, namely that web 2.0 applications are increasingly going to be enabled by sensors, rather than just people typing on keyboards. The Dash shows us how much smarter a device can be when it always knows where it is, and when it can pull in existing data based on that knowledge. But it also shows us how that data can be aggregated to create new value. This is a trend to watch: collective intelligence applications are getting eyes, ears, and a sense of location. This is truly transformative. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

(It seems to me that there’s a real possibility too that the Dash could eventually use this data to compete with data suppliers like Navteq, just bought by Nokia for $8.1 billion. The question is whether they’ll contribute this data to open data projects like openstreetmap, or use it to build their own proprietary value. Meanwhile, after GPS device maker TomTom bought TeleAtlas, they made clear that they’d be using data from the TomTom to update TeleAtlas routes. Nokia hasn’t announced any deal with Garmin, TomTom’s main competitor, but it’s hard to imagine that they won’t be thinking similar thoughts.)

This one is going to be an early IPO or acquisition, methinks.

  • Update: One more thing that I forgot to mention. The Dash will let drivers let other Dash users know if there’s a cop in the area! Rob said they ran this by the CHP, and they didn’t mind at all, as long as they didn’t pinpoint the exact location. Anything that causes people to slow down is good, they figure.

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    • Tbone

      I wish Dash would also let drivers know when a blind person is crossing the street. Perhaps that could happen if the white canes used by blind people sent out a signal.

    • Ortwin

      Give the blind person an GPS enabled OpenMoko phone like the Neo1973, write the code, problem solved.

    • Milan

      Even if it was meant as a joke, idea behind is quite nice. But I’m afraid a bit unrealistic, because touchscreen is almost unusable for sighted people, as it doesn’t provide any tactile feedback. Thus, the only way to precisely control this mobile phone is using PWR and AUX buttons (or possibly voice control, but I don’t know whether it is good idea).

    • http://blog.russnelson.com Russell Nelson

      Better to create a standard whereby a blind person has a wifi device broadcasting their presence. No need for drivers to know exactly where the person is. It’s sufficient to alert them to the presence of a blind person.

    • http://plan-b-for-openoffice.org/ PlanBForOpenOffice

      No need for drivers to know exactly where the person is.

      Not sure if this is really so. If you alert everybody every time they are close, this will lead the alerted to ignore the alert. The human mind is pretty good at zoning out useless noise.

      At the very least give the blind person a button so the signal is only sent when they really want to cross a street.

      K<o>