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:

DSP troubles and frustration
6 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!
8 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!
8 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! 

Chip Pro replacement update, software, and schedule update.
9 months ago – Tue, Jun 26, 2018 at 09:31:03 PM

Dear awesome Doppler supporters,

First off, we want to apologize for the infrequency of our updates. Communicating with our customers is very important and we want to keep you in the loop as much as possible. So if you ever want to get in touch please send us an email (hi@paloaltoinnovation.com) or write a comment on the Kickstarter and we will make sure to get back to you ASAP (less than 1 business day). 

We have a lot to update you on, but unfortunately, we have to start with some bad news:

We are estimating a 1-2 month delay for beta and regular units while we get the hardware and software to a better spot before shipping. We don’t have a firm timeline at the moment because so much is up in the air, but here is the new rough timeline:

We are aiming for Beta units to ship in August and production units to ship October. 

Please continue reading below to find out before asking questions or coming at us with pitchforks! 

Read on!
Read on!

Chip Pro Replacement

The Chip Pro
The Chip Pro

In a previous update, we went through what happened to the Chip Pro, the product that we were planning on putting into the Doppler and the company that produced it, Next Thing Co. If you didn’t read the update or want the quick version: The Chip Pro was the "brain" of the Doppler and ran our entire product. Sadly, we can’t use the Chip Pro and we had to find a replacement brain for the Doppler. 

The Chip Pro was an inexpensive, powerful, full-featured Linux computer that you could place directly onto your product’s circuit board even at production volumes. After we learned about the fate of the Chip Pro we spent the next couple weeks researching options and found upwards of 80 different potential suitors. Most of these options wouldn’t work for a myriad of different reasons... Some were too expensive with our production volumes (the Chip Pro was $16) , others didn’t have great support, others didn’t run mainline Linux, and a lot were missing the I2S sound protocol we needed for the Digital Signal Processor (DSP) we are using on our microphones. If you’re curious about why we didn’t go with a particular solution you’re familiar with, feel free to ask. 

We narrowed it down to the top 10 most likely candidates and then went down all 10 of those paths simultaneously and slowly eliminated them one by one. To give you an example of one path: we looked at and researched what it would take to make our own Chip Pro using the open source designs that we had. Eventually, after some work by our sourcing people overseas, we discovered it wasn’t an option because we couldn’t get the main processor that the Chip Pro was built around. The supplier (Allwinner) wouldn’t sell it to us due to an agreement they had signed with Next Thing Co. We even took a casual look at buying Next Thing Co. to get access to these parts. The different options we looked at for replacing the Chip Pro varied. SoMs (System on Modules like the Chip Pro), SoCs (System on Chips, where we would build our own computer directly onto the Doppler board), SBCs (Single Board Computers), microcontrollers, and a bunch of additional options. 

The PicoSoM
The PicoSoM

In the end, we decided to go in a different direction and with a different vendor entirely; the TechNexion PicoSoM. It’s a small Linux computer on its own small circuit board with a processor made by a company called NXP. This SoM (System on Module) would plug directly into the Doppler circuit board similar to how the Chip Pro did. One of the things we really liked about the PicoSoM is there is a 12 year availability guarantee with this part from TechNexion (who have been around since 2001) and they will handle all of the sourcing of the other components (flash, RAM, wireless, etc) on the board that we might have trouble sourcing ourselves. Another advantage of TechNexion is that they build their own boards in-house and control a lot of the operations themselves in their Taiwan factory. Because of this, they control a lot of the supply chain and are a great partner to have and work with. You can check out a tour of their factory here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMNXDqwKrRQ it’s pretty impressive stuff! All of these coupled with the fact that the PicoSoM is being shipped worldwide gave us confidence in the solution and we are happy to have found a great partner and product. TechNexion has been great to work with so far and we are looking forward to working with them more in the future. 

Here are some screenshots from the video if you're curious, but we highly recommend you check it out!: 

A pick and place. Video by Charbax
A pick and place. Video by Charbax
QA station. Video by Charbax
QA station. Video by Charbax
Automated quality inspection. Video by Charbax
Automated quality inspection. Video by Charbax

What did we have to do to qualify the PicoSoM for the Doppler? To start the PicoSoM has a slightly different form factor than the Chip Pro so we had to figure out a way to make the PicoSoM fit inside the product without altering the tooling we'd already made. Since the PicoSoM is much more customizable than the Chip Pro a lot of the drivers aren’t as ready to go like they were with the Chip Pro. We had to review the protocols and features of the PicoSoM (Wifi, Bluetooth, BLE, I2S. etc) and make sure they all worked and were configured properly. Then we had to get all of the proper software drivers for all of the components and other devices we are using to work with the PicoSoM. One of the advantages of the Chip Pro was much of this was already done for us because the product was geared towards smaller startup-style companies with minimal customizations. The TechNexion PicoSoM is much more configurable allowing us to customize every little thing on the device, it even supports multiple different operating systems! The PicoSoM has open carrier board specifications, design guides, and schematics similar to the Chip Pro as well. Qualifying all of these different solutions has taken a lot of time and we still have a couple more hurdles to go with the PicoSoM, but we're confident we can make it work for production! Even though TechNexion works with huge companies like Google, they have been a great partner and we truly appreciate the help they have provided. 

Thanks TechNexion!
Thanks TechNexion!

Another issue we've faced is that some suppliers don’t take us seriously and thus communication is very slow. This has been a problem for us since we started Palo Alto Innovation and hopefully as we grow in size and ship more and more products, this will become less of an issue. One of the things we have done to help accelerate things is to partner with Future Electronics, one of the largest electronics suppliers in the world, to help get us answers faster. Future has been invaluable in getting us noticed and getting our questions answered faster from larger companies that usually wouldn’t want to talk to a small fish in a big pond like us. 

Thanks Future!
Thanks Future!

So, where are we now? 

We have gone through the PicoSoM in detail and have tested them extensively with a development board and are now working on a Doppler board design that uses a PicoSoM instead of a Chip Pro. This new prototype board will head out to be manufactured next week and then we can start building up PicoSoM powered Dopplers shortly after that. We anticipate one more board revision will be needed and once we verify everything is working properly we can start the production of the beta units. 

Thanks again for your patience, we are working as fast as we can!
Thanks again for your patience, we are working as fast as we can!

Software update 

So what have we been working on in the meantime? 

In between evaluating different boards and options, we have been working hard on the Doppler’s functionality. Way back in October we actually had mentioned an internal tool we developed called the Doppalator. The Doppalator is a Doppler emulator that we developed internally to help us in development of the product; it mimics the display, microphones, speakers, and buttons of the Doppler using a very simple UI we mocked up and our computer’s internal speakers and microphone. Since we are developing our software mostly on Linux computers and the Doppler also runs Linux it is much easier to compile and build new code on our computers and then push the changes over to the Doppler hardware. Having the Doppalator has allowed us to continue development of the Doppler during the Chip Pro debacle.

So, what have we gotten done? 

We have been working on the internal database for the alarms and linking this database up to Alexa so you’ll be able to see and control your Alexa alarms from one spot. We have gotten the buttons communicating to control the alarm, colors, brightness, etc. With the collaboration of our app developer, Zemingo, we have worked on getting BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) working with an app in order to communicate between the Doppler and phone. All of this is very low-level functionality - basically getting everything working so that we can get these units out to you as soon as possible. 

The Doppalator, it's not the prettiest thing in the world. But it works!
The Doppalator, it's not the prettiest thing in the world. But it works!

Now, this being said, we are not happy with how long the development of the Doppler software is taking, so we are looking to hire another developer to grow our team and speed up development of the Doppler, future Doppler updates, as well as future PAI (Palo Alto Innovation) products. Here is the job posting if you know anyone who might be interested in joining the team: https://paloaltoinnovation.betterteam.com/embedded-linux-software-developer 

Originally, we had hoped that we wouldn’t have much if any slow down in the timeline due to finding the replacement for the Chip Pro. But sadly, it looks like we were wrong about that due to the time and extra effort required to get a new solution up and running especially with all the extra software development required. Our team is small and we had hoped the solution we ended up with would be closer to plug and play than it is. The same engineers that we had hoped would be writing code for the product ended up spending a lot of their time researching Chip Pro replacement options which further slowed us down.

Sorry again for the delay and thanks so much for your patience, trust, and loyalty. It really does mean a lot! Now, bring on the questions, we're ready!

Next update we will show you the PicoSoM Doppler board and the latest updates to the mechanical parts, it should be a good one!  

 -PAI team

T1 pictures, new app preview, and a survey
11 months ago – Wed, May 09, 2018 at 02:10:44 AM

Our favorite customers,

Welcome to another Doppler update! 

In this update, we will be sharing some pictures of the first injection molded parts of the Sandman, an update on what the app looks like, and sharing a survey that we would love for you to complete. Read on!


T1 pictures 

Injection molding is a very widely used process that is utilized to mass produce just about all plastic products. We could drone on for countless updates about injection molding and how it works, but we will keep it very short here.

Basically, a steel tool is created which has two halves. When pushed together the space between the halves are in the shape of the final product. Once these steel tools are created you heat up plastic pellets and inject them at a high temperature into the steel tools. The part then cools down and then the halves separate. The part is then pushed off of the steel tool and you have an injection molded part! 

Basic injection molding
Basic injection molding

The first parts that come out of the injection molding tooling are called "T1". These parts are never correct and always need at least some tweaking and dialing in before they are close to perfect. On the Doppler, we have 5 injection molded parts but they are the 5 most important parts of the entire product. Here is a breakdown of the parts and pictures of the T1 samples.

Please note, colors and textures will change! These are NOT what the finished products will look like at all! 

Main body - The main part of the product, basically 3/4 of the exterior of the product. 


The surface finish of this part isn't great (normal for a T1) plus is there some warpage on the part. These will be easy fixes! 

Display Frame - This part goes over the main display circuit board and allows us to create our own display segments. 


This part will be shot in a special formulation of plastic that will prevent light from bleeding through it. In general, we are happy with how this part looks as well but will reassess when it's shot in the proper plastic. 

Speaker frame - The part that the display circuit board sits in, as well as what seals the speakers into the main body.

 
This part looks awesome! We are very happy with how it came out. 

USB Cover - This is the part that covers the USB circuit boards


This part looks pretty good, although there needs to be a couple changes to smooth things out and make it look nicer. Obviously, these parts won't be this color either. You can also see what the USB-C cover will look like, these will come with the USB-C upgrade kit along with a new circuit board. 

Window - The tinted window that will cover the display

 
This part is obviously not tinted at all, but so far looks pretty good!

Again, these parts aren't final in any way, shape, color, or form. They are the first parts to come out of the tool and they are a starting point. 

Our tooling shop is making a couple small adjustments and then we will continue to dial things in and get things looking perfect!

New app design

In our last update, we introduced the Zemingo group, an app company that will be helping us with the Doppler. I would like to share with you a sneak peek of what the app has transformed into:


This isn't final yet, but we are very happy with how things are looking! We went back and forth with their designers to get something we are truly happy with. Just a reminder, this is what we had before, what a difference! 


Keep up the great work Zemingo! 

Now we need to hear from you!


We need your input! As we have been developing this product we have made a bunch of assumptions along the way. Most of these have been about user behavior and what type of phone they have... etc. Well, now we actually want to verify some of these assumptions and learn more about our users! Filling this survey out will allow us to make sure the Doppler does what the majority of our customers actually want!

The survey should take no more than 5 minutes Thanks! 

Here is the survey: https://sandmandoppler.com/survey/


That's it for now, let us know if you have any questions and now we have to get back to work! 

Thanks!

-PAI team