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Brady Forrest

Brady Forrest

Beta Test a Dash Express: The internet-connected GPS

The Dash Express is an internet-connected GPS that has been getting a lot of attention lately (especially at CES where it won several awards). It comes from the Mountain View-based company Dash Navigation.

The features of the Dash Express appear to be awesome (I have not seen it in person yet). The device will use information from other devices to suggest routes that avoid traffic (this is illustrated in the image above where various routes are available). It is also integrated with Yahoo! Local Search so you can look up anything in their local index. One of the things that I am most looking forward to is the ability to send things to the device. This will be possible via its web services (so things like a bookmarklet and email should work). The Dash Express will also provide access to geo-dependant services like gas prices and movie times -- other data services will be available in time.

I've never owned a GPS for my car. For a while I felt like my mobile phone would be able to handle directions and traffic alerts for me, but over time I've realized how lacking a generalized interface can be and just how useful single-use devices can be. So just as I use my iPod for music and podcasts, I am looking forward to having an internet connected GPS to guide me. It has what previous GPSs have lacked: a direct connection to the internet and the ability to send it information from a computer on an ad hoc basis.

So far only 200 drivers have been using the Dash Express (and they've all been under NDAs). This summer 2000 drivers will be able to test the Dash Express (for free). As of today, you can go to their site and sign-up now. They are looking for "heavy commuters and mobile gadget enthusiasts". They will screen applicants and select based on their needs.

Eric Klein of Dash will be speaking at our Where 2.0 Conference this May. As a special offer, Eric is going to bring 50 Dash Expresses with him to give out to Where 2.0 attendees. To be eligible fill out the form, heck the box that confirms you are going to Where 2.0 this year and then attend. The exact manner in which they will be given out is still TBD.

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Comments: 8

Ian Waring   [04.09.07 01:51 AM]

There's a device in the UK called the Trafficmaster Smartnav that's being doing the same sort of thing for over three years - albeit the connection is via mobile phone.

This uses the traffic congestion data derived from Trafficmasters roadside sensor network and will route you around traffic jams as they occur - or if they are unavoidable, will estimate the delay they're going to cause you.

Like this service, you can ask to be sent to the nearest ATM, nearest gas station, nearest chinese takeaway, etc. The unit can also act as a speed camera warning device and stolen car tracker (it stores about 3 months driving history in memory... which is done by sampling the GPS every 3 seconds, so it can also play back how fast the car's been moving). I've seen animations played back over a map when police have wanted to show a court the recklessness of a thief - complete with speedometer as the location traces over a map).

If they displayed the cars speed as well, that would probably be the most accurate speedometer money could buy - the ones on the dash of most cars depend too much on how much air you have in your tires!

One of it's party tricks is that it encodes the GPS position in the caller ID when it rings the call center - so the operator already knows exactly where the car is (it appears on a map in front of them, suitably annotated with road names, as the call comes through).

The UI is voice to a call center operator who does all the Yahoo/Yell/Google searches for the user if needed - so the driver can just say the company name, zip code or location they want to go to, without having to fumble buttons or take their eyes off the road.

Trafficmaster charge an annual subscription for routing, another for speed camera warnings, another for stolen car tracking (where they do all the work with the police to track and intercept the stolen car for you). The only downside is that the unit needs to be fitted in the car - which makes it expensive and of limited portability (albeit more difficult to steal).

Lots of potential - and it already does a lot of what the Dash unit is promising...

Ian W.

thilo   [04.09.07 02:23 AM]

Nice device, but from what I can see you could do all this with a decent mobile phone as well? The upcoming Nokia N95, for example, has as a built-in GPS and supports HSDPA, EDGE or WLAN. What makes Dash Express so special?

Rob Thomas   [04.09.07 03:50 AM]

I tried this device and ended up crashing my Volvo into a tree.

MarkW   [04.09.07 08:49 AM]

Hi Ian, Thilo, & Rob - This is Mark from Dash. I want to address each of your thoughts.

Ian - The Smartnav looks like an interesting product. While I am not intimately familiar with the Smartnav solution, I want to highlight a number of features that make Dash pretty distinct from products like Smartnav. First, solutions that require you to connect to the network via your mobile phone often require you to have a certain type of cell phone (e.g. - bluetooth compatible), or have a plan with a certain carrier. With Dash the cellular connectivity is built into the product, and the relationship is with Dash, so our solution works for you no matter who your carrier is or what type of phone you have. Additionally, solutions that do all the calculations on the network often don't work at all when you don't have connectivity. That means you could find yourself without navigation when you need it most (imagine being lost in the wilderness)... with Dash we have our routing and maps on the device so you are never without base navigation functionality.

Additionally, Dash takes a unique approach to traffic. In addition to the sensor data that Smartnav appears to be using, Dash devices each act as an anonymous probe sending traffic data back to our servers and then we broadcast that data to those who need it. This means we have coverage even where there aren't sensors.

Lastly, Yahoo! Local Search is a really powerful way to find destinations. I know there are lots of ways to find Gas nearby, but when you are looking for something a bit obscure (like play sand), the power of Yahoo! Local search is really great.

Thilo - I think the N95 looks like a pretty cool phone. A lot of what I outlined above I think goes to explaining how the Dash solution is different than what might come out of the N95, but then again, I haven't seen a navigation app for that product yet, which could be really cool.

Rob Thomas - Did you crash while playing with Carlos Santana? I jest because we have had a closed field test here in the Bay Area for some time and have not heard of any accidents with the device. So if you are truly a field tester send us a note today, but I have a feeling you are just giving us a hard time.

Ian Waring   [04.09.07 12:10 PM]

FWIW, Smartnav has a mobile phone in the unit itself, so you pay a subscription to Trafficmaster alone (there is no carrier plan). And there's no UI to any directional need other than talking to someone - which you can do when driving (no waiting at the roadside as you wrestle with a screen and buttons). With the Smartnav, you can even order flowers ahead of your arrival or book a hotel room en route - albeit almost all the queries are to a named company or zip code/number combination - which is +/- 10 yards).

For maps, the only downside is not having a mobile phone network when you start your journey - as the unit downloads a complete travel corridor to the unit, which then runs happily without any connectivity. It's only when the car travels well outside this corridor that the unit will "phone home" to seek further guidance.

The central call center rings through any jams or routing changes to the unit - and gives the user the option of accepting the redirect or not.

If you do have Internet connectivity all the time and there are enough vehicles on the road network using dash, you may get something statistically significant (clearly, the more you get out there, the better the service becomes - and you start telling the difference between a car stationary at a service station vs stationary on the road itselfa few yards away). In the UK, the main TMC vendor doesn't use live feeds in real time to report back congestion - the data costs are too heavy - so they rely on "journalist" and police sources for the main part.

This side of the pond, the data charges for carrying data traffic are still outrageously expensive. Nevertheless, my best wishes to your future success with your unit.

Ian W.

MarkW   [04.09.07 10:51 PM]

Ian - Thanks for clarifying the Smartnav product features... sounds pretty interesting. Sounds like I will have to convince my boss to let me travel to the UK to check it out personally ;-)

Aaron Gift   [06.17.07 09:18 PM]

Yup, in the UK we have SmartNav its really a life saver sometimes.

Kelsey Oakes   [07.03.07 12:21 PM]

I want to know how do a questionnaire on a website where they ask you questions. At the end they give you a score of 10/10. Can you give me some links please?

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