Sandman Doppler: The World's Best Alarm Clock

Created by Palo Alto Innovation

Alexa enabled, 6 USB charging ports, music playing, smart alarm clock. Meet the Sandman Doppler, the best alarm clock you've ever seen!

Latest Updates from Our Project:

Mechanical update: Things are looking good!
16 days ago – Sat, Nov 24, 2018 at 07:18:23 PM

Patient Doppler backers,  

For those that had a lot of turkey the other day, how about a quick update with lots of pictures to help you digest? 

As promised we said we would let you know about the newest plastic parts. Well, today is that day!!  

In this shorter update, we will review the current mechanical parts in detail and show what we have improved along with what still needs to be perfected. Make sure to check the end of this update for instructions on how to grab your discounted original Sandman we mentioned in the previous update!  

Here are the newest Mechanical Doppler parts:

The most recent generation of Doppler parts
The most recent generation of Doppler parts
Things are looking great! Details below!
Things are looking great! Details below!

In previous updates, we have gone over the process of injection molding and how this process works to get perfect plastic parts made in volume. If you’d like a refresher, check out this update, it’s very informative! Well, at this point we have made 3 or 4 tool revisions on the majority of the tools and we are very happy with how most of them have turned out. Let’s start with the most important part of the Doppler, the main body.

Previous revisions of the main body had some warpage in the part. This basically means that the part isn’t quite as straight as it is supposed to be and isn’t being molded properly on the first try. A big and complex part such as this is expected to have some warpage in the first couple revisions, so we weren’t concerned as we knew that a lot of the warp could be ironed out by adjusting certain things in the tool by our overseas team. The newest parts are much less warped and look almost perfect, great job guys! So what isn’t quite perfect yet? Currently, there is some extra plastic, called flash, around the microphone and speaker holes. Along with this, we noticed that the buttons sometimes stick slightly when depressed. This can be easily remedied by adjusting the tooling ever so slightly to open up the holes. Again, these types of issues are to be expected when working with new injection molding tools as the tolerances are very tight. We are hoping the next revision of the part will be production ready!

Warp on the left, almost perfect on the right
Warp on the left, almost perfect on the right
Holes with minor flash
Holes with minor flash
Closeup of the flash
Closeup of the flash

Very early on in the development process of the Doppler, we decided to do a special surface treatment to the exterior of the Doppler called soft touch. Soft touch is a special coating that is put on the outside of products that makes the products appear less shiny and literally soft to the touch. This process has become more and more prevalent in products in the last 10 years or so and really makes a product feel premium and high quality.  Well, even though we are going to be putting soft touch coating on the majority of the exterior surfaces of the Doppler, we still wanted to make sure that underneath the coating the bare plastic was smooth, even, and not scratched. We still have a little bit of work to do on this front, but we are confident that the product will look perfect.

No soft touch on the left, soft touch on the right
No soft touch on the left, soft touch on the right

 The speaker frame is an integral part of the Doppler and creates an air seal to make the speakers sound as good as possible. This part hasn’t changed much at all, and we are very happy with it. We do need to modify a hole slightly, which should be done in the next revision. This is considered a “tool safe” change and will be very easy to do. A quick aside on what is considered tool safe or not. At a basic level, an injection mold is a giant hunk of metal. If the required modification to the giant hunk of metal removes some metal, it’s considered tool safe. If the edit you need to do on the tool requires you to add metal into the tool, this is much harder and considered not tool safe as it’s much easier to cut away some metal than it is to add more metal. The change we need to do is to slightly increase the size of a hole, so this requires removing metal in the tool, so it’s tool safe. The hole that we need to increase in size is the hole where the cable goes in between the button board and display board. We are increasing this hole slightly because it will make sourcing these cables much easier in production.

The speaker frame and the hole we need to increase.
The speaker frame and the hole we need to increase.
Closeup of the backside of the hole
Closeup of the backside of the hole

The display frame is the part that actually makes the Doppler’s lights come to life! Without the display frame you’d just have blobs of light without any sort of separated segments. In order to get these segments as crisp as possible, the display frame has to be as flat as possible. We noticed some rough spots on the display, in particular with the area around the temperature/humidity 7 segments. This has been smoothed out in the latest revision and looks great.

Closeup showing the rough finish
Closeup showing the rough finish
Closeup showing the smoothed out part
Closeup showing the smoothed out part

So, what else needs to be done? Well once these couple issues are resolved we will make 20 full sets of the parts for an engineering build. We will assemble these 20 units with circuit boards (more on that in the next update) and make 20 working Dopplers! These will be the alpha units and we will stress test them and go over everything with a fine-toothed comb. It’s very likely we will find some other small issues which we will want to tackle before we move on to the larger scale beta test.

In general, we are very happy with the mechanical and we hope you all are as well!

As mentioned in our previous update, we wanted to do something for all of you for being so patient while we work through these supplier issues. We sent out the discount codes for your discounted Original Sandman the other day to the email address you used for this campaign. If you still haven’t gotten it, make sure to check your spam folder, if it’s still not there, let us know and we will make it right. Please send us a message or an email at support@paloaltoinnovation.com Hopefully this discounted original Sandman holds you over until the Doppler arrives, it also makes a great gift!  

We plan on sending out another update addressing the circuit boards shortly, but things are looking great. Thanks again for your patience!

 -PAI team

New schedule and DSP update, plus a discounted original Sandman
about 1 month ago – Tue, Oct 30, 2018 at 02:10:36 AM

Loyal Doppler supporters, here we are with another email update.

First off, we just wanted to say thanks for sticking with us and all the support you have given us is keeping us energized and excited. The Doppler is going to be an awesome product and we can’t wait to get it into your hands!

So, when will this actually happen? When will we be able to ship you guys the darn things?! There are currently numerous factors that are creating long lead times in the entire industry. Once the circuit board design is verified and we can order the electrical components and start the clock on those lead times. Our current target is to start the initial production of the Doppler right after Chinese New Year 2019 ends at the end of February. This means that we hope to ship you your Doppler units in March.

We know it may sound repetitive, but we really are very unhappy with the numerous delays and we know you are as well. We want nothing more than to get the Doppler into your hands as soon as possible! In an attempt to apologize to you guys, we would like to offer a discount on the Original Sandman. While the Original Sandman doesn’t have all the great features the Doppler has it should be a great holdover for you while waiting for the Doppler. You can learn more about the original Sandman here: sandmanclocks.com. Please check your email in the coming weeks and we will send over a personalized discount code for everyone.

The original Sandman
The original Sandman

In the previous update, we explained the issues we had with the DSP (digital signal processor) when the supplier no longer could support us. Well for the last month and a half we have worked on ripping out the DSP, microphone, power, and amplifier parts of our boards and replacing them with new parts that are being supported by our new DSP supplier. This ended up being about 50% of the board design, so it was a pretty major change. Once we were done with the board design, we sent it out to be manufactured. When we got the board and the parts, we brought them to our local assembly shop to put the (421!) surface mount parts on the board. After we got the newly-assembled boards in-house, we started the board bring up process and crossed our fingers. As is typical with complex engineering projects, we knew better than to expect everything to just work right away because we couldn’t finish writing the necessary drivers and software without physically having the boards. But, we do have good news! As it stands, the DSP is fully functional and we have it recording and sending sound to the main Doppler computer! We are currently working on bringing up the new stereo amplifier on the boards, which is the chip responsible for actually playing the sound from the Doppler computer. We are hoping to get this working in the next week or so. Getting sound to come out of the DSP is a huge step and once the new stereo amplifier chip is up and running we will have fully functional Doppler boards!

The green areas are the changed sections of the board
The green areas are the changed sections of the board
The green areas are the changed sections of the board
The green areas are the changed sections of the board

 It might sound like we are still really far away from having a working Doppler. While I understand that feeling, let me tell you why it’s not accurate. In a previous update, we mentioned the Doppalator (the Doppler emulator). For those that need a reminder, The Doppalator is a Linux application that we created that mimics the actual Doppler hardware. This means that everything that works on the Doppalator will work on the finished hardware. The Doppalator currently has an estimated 70% of the functionality working reliably. So even though there have been hardware setbacks, we have been making progress on the software side. This is where a lot of our work has been when we haven’t been working on the boards. This is a partial list of some of the features that currently work on the Doppalator (in no particular order): Amazon Alexa, Alarms, 12/24 hour time, time set mode, color of the display, display brightness, volume buttons, mute button, timezones, BLE connection to the phone, day of the week, am/pm, time zones, and Wifi setup.

Here is a quick video demo of the Doppalator and Alexa working. This show the mute button working and the mic button working, along with some terrible dad jokes.

  
The next couple of things we will tackle (when we aren’t working on the boards): Dashboard, light sensor auto dimming, OTA software updating, A2DP and a couple other smaller items. These are significant pieces we have to get working but we know we can get everything done. We also want to stress that all the work we do on the Doppalator will be applied to the hardware once the boards are up and working! When we finish the remaining 30% of the development, we will be ready for a Beta test with our beta backers! These beta backers will help us make any last tweaks before we get everyone else their Dopplers! We then hope to continuously add more and more features in our quest to make the Doppler the best it can be. For those that are curious, the first major addition to the Doppler we plan on working on after Beta, Google Assistant!

  • Some other quick updates: The newest mechanical parts are looking really very good and are almost perfect! We just have a couple small tweaks to get everything juuuust right and then we can mark off the mechanical as finished. We are getting new parts in the mail the week after next, and we look forward to sharing those with you when they arrive! 
  • The packaging design has begun; it will be a similar style to our original Sandman Clock. We are very happy with how this is progressing and our graphics team are now working on the exterior graphics of the box. 
Prototype packaging. Proto-package?
Prototype packaging. Proto-package?
  • Our app partners over at Zemingo have been hard at work as well and we are working on nailing down the OOBE (out of box experience) and initial setup of the Doppler via the app. Here are some screenshots of the current build of the app (which is a work in progress): 

Wifi setup screen
Wifi setup screen
"Home" screen
"Home" screen
Settings screen
Settings screen

Alright, that brings you up to speed on where we’re at with development! Although there is still work to be done, we are determined to get the Doppler onto your nightstands as quickly as we can. Thanks again for your support and patience!  

-PAI team

DSP troubles and frustration
3 months ago – Thu, Sep 13, 2018 at 12:57:58 AM

Loyal Backers,  

We have been very busy for a couple weeks working hard on a lot of different things and wanted to take a quick second to poke our head up, breathe, and update our amazing supporters.

To start off, we have had another pretty major setback, which we will outline in detail below. Sadly, this setback has forced us to adjust our schedule again. The previous schedule was for beta units to ship in August and production units to ship in October. We will explain in detail what happened and why in this update, but as for a new schedule, we are working with our manufacturing team overseas on an updated schedule. So for now, we don’t have a new schedule for the release of the Doppler. We anticipate it might be a couple month or more delay. We are working on an updated schedule and will announce it as soon as we can.

We obviously realize that another setback isn’t what you want to hear about, but let us explain what happened and what we are doing about it.

The current DSP on our current boards
The current DSP on our current boards

The problem part is our digital signal processor, or DSP for short, which is a chip on our main circuit board that takes the digital input from the microphones and cleans them up allowing voice control to work well. The DSP is also responsible for something called acoustic echo cancellation or AEC which will take the input from the microphones and removes the sound of what is playing from the speakers in order to send a clear signal to the Doppler’s internal computer allowing for improved voice interaction. So what does that mean exactly? If you are playing music with your Doppler and you want to ask Alexa a question while music is playing, normally the microphones would just pick up the music that is playing and the Doppler wouldn't be able to hear your voice well or at all. That’s where the DSP and EAC come in and analyzes the current output of the speakers and in real time removes the sound of the music to leave only your voice so the Doppler can properly listen to you.

Acoustic echo cancellation diagram
Acoustic echo cancellation diagram

Amazon had made our job a little bit easier and recommended a couple DSP solutions for us to use and try out. We bought a bunch of different development kits and around the time the Kickstarter ended (around a year ago) we were deep into engineering the DSP, testing different solutions, and architecting how it was going to work with Doppler. After testing about 6 different solutions using development and evaluation kits we ended up choosing the Timberwolf created by a company called Microsemi. We were confident that the Timberwolf solution would work great for the Doppler as it was Amazon recommended and came from a huge and stable company like Microsemi. We bought some more development kits and tested the solution extensively and were happy with the performance and decided to put the DSP on our boards. We didn’t manage to get the Timberwolf running before CES so we were using a DSP-less solution for the show. Everything worked, but not well due to the lack of DSP. Since there was no EAC frequently we found ourselves yelling at the prototype to listen to us if the music was too loud. This was to be expected because Alexa was just hearing the music, not us due to lack of EAC. When we got back from CES we started working with the Chip Pro team on driver support for the Microsemi and then… well, we all know how that ended.

The Timberwolf development kit plugged into the PicoSom development kit
The Timberwolf development kit plugged into the PicoSom development kit

Well while we were working on finding a Chip Pro replacement last spring we heard that another electronics company, MicroChip, was looking to buy Microsemi. MicroChip is a well-known company to us and we have bought lots of parts from them before so we were actually excited about the transition as MicroChip is known for supporting their products very well. You can read about the sale of Microsemi here. Fast forward a couple months and we were working closely with members of the Timberwolf team and it looked like we were very close to getting the DSP to work with the PicoSom. Around the middle of August, we suddenly found out that MicroChip decided to layoff a major part of the Timberwolf team and they no longer had anyone on their team capable of supporting us with getting the drivers working.

We were stunned and reached out to anyone and everyone we could think of to ask them for help. Sadly, nobody could help us and we were basically told, sorry, we aren’t able to support you at this time. You can try and finish the work on your own or switch suppliers. We looked into finishing all the work ourselves, but it’s a terrible idea to design your product’s entire audio system around a product that is no longer supported by the manufacturer.

This is the second time very bad luck has hit us and we aren’t happy about it at all. If you aren’t familiar with the first time, you can read about it here. While having these setbacks have been time-consuming and VERY frustrating we aren’t giving up and are continuing to charge forward with a new DSP solution.

Speaking of the new solution, thanks to our previous research and Amazon’s recommended DSP solutions there were only a couple DSP options that were viable for our solution. One of the DSP chips we had previously looked into using actually had released a new development kit using a PicoSom very similar to the one we had chosen to move to! This was a breath of fresh air because we knew that the solution would work. To make matters even better we actually had all the parts in house to cobble together our own homegrown version of their development kit and test out the DSP using the PicoSom.

PicoSom development kit and the new DSP development kit
PicoSom development kit and the new DSP development kit

A couple of late nights later we hacked together a working version of the Doppler software running on the evaluation boards. We then took our newest revision of boards and bypassed the DSP and got the new boards (at least the lights, buttons, and light sensor) working with the evaluation kits. This was our proof of concept that the new DSP would work!

It's messy, but this is a fully working Doppler with DSP!
It's messy, but this is a fully working Doppler with DSP!

We then spent 3 weeks researching anything and everything we can about the DSP, its drivers, and ripping out and replacing the audio system of the Doppler. This last step required changing about 50% of the main board (the button board) as about half of that board is dedicated to the DSP, the microphones, and the Doppler's audio output. The latest revision of the boards will be going out to the board assembly house next week and when they come back we should have a fully working Doppler with the new DSP properly implemented. This DSP will have to be tuned properly to get the best possible performance but we anticipate that it will work well and get the Doppler a step closer to production.

We fully expect this to feel like a kick in the gut for our supporters and we promise that we feel 100x’s worse than you do. It was never our intention to deliver late and we are pushing to get you guys a fantastic product as soon as possible, but shipping this device without a DSP just isn’t an option.

Please feel free to send us an email (hi@paloaltoinnovation.com) or sound off in the comments, but, please try and keep them as civil as possible. We are all frustrated!

Thanks again for your patience!  

-PAI Team

Update 19: New boards are here!
4 months ago – Wed, Aug 08, 2018 at 11:09:50 PM

Loyal Backers,  

We have new circuit boards! Check them out below!

These are two separate panels of boards and in total there are actually 5 boards in the panel. The display board, button board, carrier board, USB A, and USB C boards.

The main panel
The main panel
The back of the main panel
The back of the main panel
The USB panel
The USB panel

 In order to make these boards function we need to put components on them. We have a BOM (bill of materials) which is a list of all the parts that go onto the circuit board to make it work. Basically, every gold pad will have a component or wire attached to it in order to make these boards work. The Doppler bill of materials contains 55 different types of parts ranging from Ambient light sensors to USB ports (not quite A-Z). In total there are 438 total parts on the Doppler’s boards. Holy cow! Some of these parts are very small making a penny look big. 

This is a 0402 part. Meaning it's .4mm x .2mm
This is a 0402 part. Meaning it's .4mm x .2mm

These panels are then taken to a board assembly house along with the parts and they are installed on the boards using solder paste and reflow ovens. This consists of taking a laser cut metal stencil and using it to expose just the gold pads. Then you take a liquid metal material called solder paste and carefully dispense a tiny bit on each of the exposed pads of the circuit board. After that, each of the 438 individual components must be manually placed in the proper orientation on the pads filled with solder paste (during large-scale production this is done by a machine). Lastly, you place the boards into a very special oven called a reflow oven which melts the solder paste attaching the parts to the boards and creating a good electrical connection. This process is basically how all circuit boards are made! It’s pretty fascinating!

Here are what the boards look like once they come back from the board assembly house:

Main panel - front
Main panel - front
Main panel - back
Main panel - back

 The biggest difference with these boards is the inclusion of the PicoSOM and the removal of the Chip Pro. But, there are a lot of other changes and additions as well. See if you can spot some of the differences. Here is the update where we broke down parts of the boards, see if you can see any of the big differences!

Comparing the boards, both in panel
Comparing the boards, both in panel

 Once we got the boards back from the assembly house, we attached wires to the inputs of the boards and attached the flex cables to connect the boards together. When powering up a new board design for the first time you always have to be very careful since there are so many different places things can go wrong.

A closeup of the flex cable connecting the button and display boards
A closeup of the flex cable connecting the button and display boards

We are happy to report that the boards powered on fine and everything looked to be in order. We flashed the latest firmware onto the microcontroller and turned on the lights!

Success!

     
Then we have to test fit the boards into the plastic parts. Check out some pictures of the boards inside the plastic:

All 5 boards are pictured here
All 5 boards are pictured here
A closeup of the carrier board
A closeup of the carrier board
The boards that were in the main panel
The boards that were in the main panel
Looking good!
Looking good!

 So? What’s the next step?  

Next, we have to continue working on getting our software onto the PicoSOM and work on getting our boards to talk to each other. We hope to share some great news in the next update regarding this progress.

While we have been doing all of this we have also been working on the smartphone app, the Doppler software, and the mechanical tooling changes discussed in the last update. We plan on sharing the progress we have made in upcoming updates!

A quick note, a fair number of you have asked: How can I change my address? Is it too late?

No, it’s not too late and you can change your address in Backerkit by following this link and finding your pledge using your email address. From there you can change your address. We will let you know when we will be “locking down” addresses. But, for now, assume it will be in October.

We are working as hard as we can to get you the Doppler as fast as possible. Thanks for your patience.

Cheers, 

The PAI team

T2 samples are here, plus a way to make some money!
5 months ago – Fri, Jul 13, 2018 at 02:36:40 PM

Backers,

We have listened to your feedback and from now on are going to try and update you more frequently with shorter updates. We appreciate the feedback, so please keep it a-coming! 

Hardware updates: 

A couple updates ago we discussed what a T1 is, and how the injection molding parts change and get better over time. We would now like to share with you what the same parts look like but after the tools have been refined a little bit further. Some of the tools have gone through a couple revisions and some have only gone through a very small change, but we are calling the parts pictured below “T2”. They aren’t perfect but are looking a whole lot better than the T1. Lots of pictures below: 

A shot of all the T2 parts
A shot of all the T2 parts

Here are some of the parts we will be highlighting today. Not pictured is the display frame, but there will be pictures of that below. 

Speaker grills!
Speaker grills!

We are doing durability testing on these parts to make sure there is minimal rusting and they still look great after some abuse. We also are paying attention to the pattern of the holes to make sure they are parallel with the bends. The left and the right grills are the same.

The buttons
The buttons

The buttons are looking better and better, but still require some tuning. We are tuning in the light bleed around the edges of the buttons as we as the button feel when they are pressed.  

Back of the buttons
Back of the buttons

Here is a picture of the back of the buttons. These black circles are called carbon pills and they make a connection with the circuit board when the button is pressed. 

Speaker frame
Speaker frame

This part is looking great and it is very close to production ready. Its job is to hold the speakers in place and seal the air volume inside the main body to produce a great sounding speaker. 

Back of the speaker frame
Back of the speaker frame


The back of the speaker frame has the baffles we discussed in an earlier update. They turned out great and will do their job very well! 

Display frame
Display frame

This part is essential for creating the segmented look of the Doppler display. The circuit board goes underneath this display and a mask goes on top of it to create the segments. 


Here is a quick video of one of our circuit boards going through a series of different lighting demos to demonstrate how the segments work without the display mask. There is still a little light bleed between the segments which is one of the things we are working on now. 

Main body
Main body

This is the most important part of the Doppler and it's looking great as well! You'll notice there is some warp in the part which we are working on, but it gets pressed into the proper position by the speaker frame as designed. It's better to be warped in, than out! 

Back of the main body
Back of the main body

Here is the back of the body showing the light sensor and microphone holes along with the bass port and USB board slots. See the texture difference on the bass port, it's a nice subtle touch we are very proud of! You'll notice some extra material called flash on microphone/light sensor holes on the top. We are working to eliminate those as well. You can also see the soft touch texture on this part as well. It feels great! 

USB cover
USB cover

This part needed some work as the press fit pins we designed are just a littttttle too big. This happens when doing press fit parts like this and we will dial it in perfectly in the next revision or two. 

Looks good, doesn't it? 


Here is a quick video of all the parts assembled. Things are looking really good and very close to production ready! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! 

Referral program: 

Do it!
Do it!

We’d like to let you know about a referral program that we just started. It’s a great way to earn some money and help PAI and the Doppler in the process! Allow us to explain:

The referral program is very simple, 

1. Go to this link (http://sandmandoppler.refr.cc/

2. Get your sharing link 

3. Share it! 

4. If someone buys a Doppler using your link, you get $25 deposited into your Paypal account!

 It’s really that simple and a great way to make some money. 

Now, I know some of you are thinking, “please spend your time engineering and finishing the product rather than selling more units”. This is a very good point and let me explain our reasoning here. First off, engineering and finishing the product ASAP is our #1 priority, but in order to take advantage of economies of scale, we need a minimum order at least 5,000 units in our initial order. We currently have around 1,600 preorders and the closer we get to that minimum threshold, the better. 

So, please spread the word about the Doppler and make some money in the process!

 We hope you guys enjoyed this update and we plan on sending the next one in a couple of weeks to show off the new Doppler circuit boards using the Pico-SoM! 

Thanks again for your continued support, questions, and comments.  

-PAI Force!