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Alexa-ready digital alarm clock radio runs Linux on hackable Chip Pro

Jul 17, 2017 — by Eric Brown 1,616 views

PAI’s “Sandman Doppler” is an Alexa-enabled smart alarm clock and music streamer that runs Linux on the Chip Pro COM, and offers 6x USB charging ports.

Palo Alto Innovation (PAI) had a troubled first-time Kickstarter launch with its original Sandman Clock, but the company fulfilled all its orders and moved on to a next generation model, the Sandman Doppler. This larger, more capable digital alarm clock and smart speaker adds Amazon Alexa voice controls, dual speakers, and two more USB charging ports, among other features. The Linux-driven device is built on the Next Thing’s open spec Chip Pro module, and lets you hack the COM via its micro-USB port (see farther below).

Sandman Doppler, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

The Sandman Doppler Kickstarter campaign has already nearly doubled its funding goal. The Sandman Doppler is available for $119 for a package due in July 2018. If that’s too long to wait to be totally woke, you can opt for an $89 beta testing unit that ships in March 2018, but without all the fit and finish.

Ever since the Chumby, just about every consumer electronics device with a screen has tossed in an alarm clock feature, which was also one of the first apps to appear on smartphones. PAI’s developers, however, decided alarm clocks are better than smartphones, especially when hitting the snooze button or checking the time in the middle of the night.

Sandman Doppler showing front-routed charging cables
(click image to enlarge)

They also realized that alarm clocks are a great place to charge all your devices. The Sandman Doppler integrates a dual voltage 110/220 power supply, with no external brick, and offers six USB Type A charging ports, each with 2.1 amps.

Optional 3-port USB-C adapter kit
(click image to enlarge)

Three of the ports can be swapped out for user-supplied USB-C connections, by installing a small, optional adapter card. The device integrates a rechargeable battery backup, and is engineered to redirect cables under the enclosure to charge devices in front of the device.


The Sandman Doppler features a 1.8-inch tall display with a light sensor that adjusts by ambient light or preference. Instead of using a touchscreen, you interact with the device via a mobile app or top-mounted buttons. These include media player controls as well as two programmable user buttons. The display has customizable colors, and includes dashboard indicators for traffic, weather, temperature, and day of the week.

Sandman Doppler with grills removed to expose its speakers
(click image to enlarge)

The 295 x 120 x 102mm Sandman Doppler is equipped with “acoustically and digitally tuned full-range” 220Hz to 20kHz stereo speakers. The 14W speakers include a bass port, and there’s also a microphone with a top-mounted control button. The system includes Bluetooth in addition to WiFi, so you can stream music from a phone.

Sandman Doppler control buttons (left) and mobile app
(click images to enlarge)

The Sandman Doppler supports “most” Amazon Alexa skills, including Spotify, says PAI. These include voice commands for controlling the alarm clock, asking questions, playing radio stations, getting weather and traffic reports, and checking a calendar. You can also interact with a growing number of IoT ecosystems such as IFTTT, Philips Hue, Wink, Nest, Z-Wave, WeMo, and SmartThings. Currently, Alexa works only in the U.S., UK, and Germany, but this is expected to expand soon.

Under the hood of the Sandman Doppler is Next Thing’s computer-on-module spin on the Chip SBC, called the Chip Pro. Users can access the micro-USB port on the open-spec COM to hack their own interfaces and functions.

Chip Pro block diagram (left) and pin assignments
(click images to enlarge)

Chip Pro

The 45 x 30mm COM runs the Next Thing’s Debian Linux-based GadgetOS on a well-documented system-in-package (SiP) version of the single-core, Cortex-A8 Allwinner R8 SoC called the GR8. The SiP package includes a Mali-400 GPU and 256MB of integrated DDR3 RAM. The Chip Pro module also offers 512MB NAND flash and onboard WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2.

Further information

The Sandman Doppler is available on Kickstarter through Aug. 17 for a standard $119 package due in July 2018, or an $89 beta testing unit that ships in March 2018. More information may be found on the Sandman Doppler Kickstarter page, and more should eventually appear on the Palo Alto Innovation website.

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One response to “Alexa-ready digital alarm clock radio runs Linux on hackable Chip Pro”

  1. Mason says:

    Having recently gotten in to Amazon Echo, this is something I’d totally get for the bedroom and cinema. That $89 price point seems about perfect.

    What I don’t like are these repeated trips to the trough of kickstarter. Do it once, establish yourself, then come out with improved products. I feel like this is a way for companies to gauge buyer interest (like a free, hell you even get paid to do it! Focus group), get a ton of free press, and then not have to actually guarantee to deliver.

    Been burned on kickstarter once, been successful a few more times. The risk isn’t there for me any more. But once this reaches the market, put me down for one. That’s if the Chinese haven’t copied all the ideas and come to market 6 months sooner for 25% less price. Which is a pretty big if.

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