The Next Thing’s “Dashbot” is an automotive gizmo that offers voice control of a phone’s music, nav, and texts. Inside is a CHIP Pro module running Linux.
A little over a month after announcing a computer-on-module version of the CHIP (Computer Hardware in Products) SBC called the CHIP Pro, The Next Thing went to Kickstarter to launch a hands-free automotive/mobile interface called the Dashbot, based on the COM. At publication time, the open source device was more than halfway to its $100K goal, with the funding round open until Dec. 17. Don’t expect to see your Dashbot under the Christmas tree, however. The $49 device won’t ship until July 2017.
The Bluetooth-enabled Dashbot provides an AI voice agent interface, letting you interact with your Android Lollipop 5.0+ or iOS 10 smartphone service via voice. By prefacing any statements with “Dashbot,” you can order up music stations on Spotify, NPR One, FM Radio, Podcasts, Google Play Music, Apple Music, and other services.
The system also plugs into Google Maps to provide a voice interface into the system, and it generates text-to-speech turn-by-turn directions. The Dashbot can be set up to tell you who is making a voice call, read incoming texts. or convert speech to text for SMS dictation.
While much of this technology is already available on smartphones via AI voice agents like Apple’s Siri and Android’s Google Now, the Dashbot provides a 32-bit DSP with a far-field beamforming microphone array. The high fidelity MEMS array features adaptive background noise suppression, which helps pick up your voice commands even with the music on, says The Next Thing.
Dashbot detail view (left) and microphone array
(click images to enlarge)
The Dashbot also makes use of your car’s speakers, connecting to a car stereo system via Bluetooth or an auxiliary jack. The device attaches to the dash via a magnetic attachment to an adhesive mount, and draws power over USB or a 12V port to a cigarette lighter.
The Dashbot features a macro-pixel LED display that flashes simple visual cues that reinforce the voice interaction. For example, as Dashbot’s AI voice agent channels its inner Google Maps to tell you to turn left, red arrows point in that direction. The display offers auto-dimming for day and night visibility.
Voice control and noise-suppression microphones are also available on high-end in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems, many of which can also provide voice control of phones via Android Auto or CarPlay. However, at only $49, the Dashbot is far more affordable, and would seem to offer a safe, convenient alternative to struggling to control your phone by voice or straining to hear directions. More typically, of course, people attempt to manipulate their phone’s touch interface while driving, often with disastrous results.
Additional Kickstarter packages include a $65 Retro Pack that includes FM and cassette tape deck adapters. There’s also an $65 Expansion Pack that adds an OBDII connector and an 8GB card, presumably for connecting to your car’s telematics system.
The hardware and software is entirely open source, including the beam-forming mic software, and there’s an API for expanding the service with new voices or building additional voice services. Even the $16 CHIP Pro module inside the Dashbot is open source, as is the SiP form factor GR8 version of the Cortex-A8 Allwinner R8 SoC that runs Linux on the module.
The CHIP Pro has half the RAM of the CHIP SBC with 256MB DDR3, and it offers only 512MB NAND flash instead of 4GB NAND. However, it retains the onboard WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2 radios.
I/O expressed via the module’s 32 pins include USB 2.0 OTG and host, 2x UART, 2x PWM, TWI, parallel camera, and SPI. The module is optimized for audio, providing a 24-bit ADC/DAC, One-Wire audio digital out, and I2S digital audio with dual mic interfaces.
The Dashbot is available for $49 on Kickstarter through Dec. 17, with shipments due in July. More information may be found at The Next Thing’s Dashbot Kickstarter page.