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:
Chip Pro replacement update, software, and schedule update.
12 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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!
Chip Pro Replacement
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.
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!:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
T1 pictures, new app preview, and a survey
about 1 year 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!
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!
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!
That's it for now, let us know if you have any questions and now we have to get back to work!
App, Chip Pro updates, and tooling pictures
about 1 year ago
– Fri, Apr 06, 2018 at 11:53:57 PM
Doppler supporters lend me your ears!
We have a full update below with some pretty interesting pictures on the bottom! Read on and let us know in the comments any questions you might have.
Everyone has a favorite feature of the Doppler and we were surprised pretty early in the process as to just how many different favorites there are! Some love the big display, others love the USB C upgradability, most like Alexa, but the thing most of us at PAI are most excited about is the App. Not necessarily what the App can do at launch, but some of the features we plan on adding after the Doppler launches. In order to get you some of these awesome features even sooner, we have decided to bring in the big guns and have agreed to a partnership with the Zemingo Group.
We have been talking to the guys at Zemingo for about the last 12 months on and off and finally got to meet face to face at CES. Their expertise is really going to bring a level of polish that we couldn’t have achieved. It will also allow new and exciting features to come to the Doppler sooner than we could without their help. Currently, Zemingo is reviewing everything we have done previously in regards to the app, ripping it apart and improving it. We can’t wait to see what they come up with, it’s going to be awesome!
As some of our backers have noticed things aren’t looking too great over with one of our main hardware partners, Next Thing Co. (NTC) makers of the Chip Pro, the “brain” of the Doppler. Allow me to explain what’s going on, how this affects the Doppler, and what we are doing about it.
Back when we were designing the Doppler we wanted it to have a full computer inside, this meant a tiny SBC (single board computer) embedded inside the product somehow. Most of the solutions were going to be too expensive, so when we found the Chip Pro we were thrilled. This was a $16 computer available at any quantity that was designed to be embedded directly onto our circuit board. We ordered some boards, tested them out and were happy with the solution. Since we were working with these guys so closely, we knew something serious was going on as early as December.
We were told in January that things were looking up and we were in discussions about putting in our production order when things QUICKLY turned south. In the next couple days, it will be announced that the assets of Next Thing Co. will be for sale allowing someone to manufacture and sell Chip Pros to people like us. Now, this being said we have no idea if or how they will change the product and what price they will sell it for. So for the first production run of the Doppler, we need to go a different direction.
Over here at PAI, we have been very busy evaluating multiple different options to replace the Chip Pro. We looked at any and every option we could imagine, from producing our own Chip Pro, using a Raspberry Pi, to doing everything with a microprocessor. While we haven’t settled on one yet we have narrowed the contenders down to 2 options and we are confident we can decide on one in the coming month or so. These are both SOM (system on module) solutions that run Linux allowing us to easily port our software over from the code we had built for the Chip Pro.
So how does this affect the timeline? Long story short, it shouldn’t affect it at all. Both solutions we are looking at have relatively short lead times and our software can easily be integrated over to the solution we are using. We will have to do a couple new revisions of the circuit board as the footprint of the new solutions are slightly different from the Chip Pro, but this isn’t a big deal at all. Unfortunately, stuff like this happens all the time in the business and being able to adapt quickly is the name of the game. We are sorry to see NTC go, but fear not, the Doppler isn’t going anywhere!
Tooling is underway for the Doppler! The tools should be done in the next couple weeks and we will get the first parts of the tools, T1s, soon. This will allow us to put together the first injection molded Doppler and see what sort of tool modification we have to do to make everything fit juuuust right. Check out these pictures of the various Doppler tools!
While these hunks of metal are dirty, gross and grimy now. Once they are finished they will be textured and polished up and they will create the plastic parts for your very own Doppler! How exciting is that?
Thanks again for your support and we look forward to any questions or comments you guys might have.
Schedule update and CES Recap!
over 1 year ago
– Fri, Feb 23, 2018 at 07:21:08 PM
Here we are with another Sandman Doppler update and this one is long and important. So strap in and we will do our best to update you on as much information as we can!
First off and most importantly is the schedule update. We know this is what most of you want and are interested in, so we aren’t going to bury it on the bottom of the update, it goes at the very top! Since we had to do some pretty serious design changes on the Doppler (moving the light sensor and mics, neopixels, and speaker baffles) after the campaign we haven’t opened tooling up nearly as early as we wanted. We did anticipate this would happen to some extent so we budgeted some time for it. That being said, we would have liked to be further along than we are. While it's still possible to hit our previously announced launch date we wanted to readdress the schedule.
So, what does that mean?
Here is the current updated schedule next to the old one:
First off, the beta units will be late. No question there. The good news is we have gone through so much DFM (design for manufacturing) and prototyping in the last couple months with our factory’s tooling engineers everyone is very optimistic about the quality of the units we will get from our first parts out of the tools (these are called T1’s). Also, we will have lots of time to work on the software and get things to a better point for our beta users to test when these are ready.
General production will most likely be delayed a month. We are going to try and beat these estimates, but we would like to prepare you for your Doppler being a month or so late.
Why the delay?
As we noted in previous updates we decided to make some pretty serious changes to the main display, microphones, light sensor and speaker enclosure. This required us to work closely with the factory to redesign the tooling. We went through months of DFM and are now confident we have a design that will require minimal tooling changes once first made. In order to test out our newest design, we went through multiple revisions of prototypes including the current prototypes we showed at CES, which look incredible!
How did we come up with this current schedule?
We have been discussing the schedule with our partners at our factory for months, but when we met at CES we started to nail down the schedule in a little more detail. A lot of the schedule was contingent on how well the prototypes came out (more on these later, but they came out great). The week after CES we met in person with the CEO of our factory at our office and nailed down the schedule further. Until something changes, the schedule listed above is what we are going to do our best to stick to. Once again if something changes we will let you know.
What’s the next step?
The next step for the Doppler is to start cutting the steel for the tool! The injection molded parts are made out of giant hunks of steel that have to be cut and milled very precisely to create all of the features of the Doppler. We purchased the steel right before Chinese new year started and once the factories all come back online after the holiday we are going to start cutting. In 30 days or so we will get the T1 samples. These are the first parts to come out of the tool and we can’t wait to see how they look!
We are sorry for this minor delay and we are working on getting these to you as fast as possible!
We are currently working with our 5th revision of the Doppler board design and they are working very well but aren’t quite there. We expect this next revision of the board to be almost production ready. The boards are made in one large panel that has both the button board and the display board in PCB. We can then carefully snap the boards apart when you want to put them into a Sandman body. The 2 boards are currently connected using header wires, but the next rev of the boards will use fine pitch connectors to allow for easier assembly and manufacturability.
Let’s dive into the boards a little further:
The Display board is responsible for showing the user the time and other dashboard information. The board is broken up into 4 main parts: The light bar, time display, dashboard, and secondary digit areas. In update #11 we discussed the difference between RGB LEDs and neopixels. Well, we decided to do a hybrid approach and have both types of lights on the board. We are confident this is the best solution for this product and are very happy with the quality of the display. The hybrid display uses 104 Neopixels to light up the light bar, main time display, and dashboard along with 20 RGB LEDs to light up the 7 segment part of the display. We could have made neopixels work on the 7 segment part of the display, but the area is just too small for it to work well.
The button board is where the magic happens! The button board uses 12 RGB led’s to light up the buttons allowing them to be visible at night. There are also specially designed pads on the board for a type of button, called a carbon pill switch. Basically, there is a very small disc (called a pill) of highly conductive material on the underside of the buttons. When any of the pills touch the pads on the circuit boards this triggers the switch! The board also has 2 microphones on it which are used for Alexa and a light sensor in between them for automatic brightness adjustment. All of these lights and sensors are controlled by a custom programmed microcontroller that communicates back and forth with the main “brain” of the Doppler, the Chip Pro. The Chip Pro is a full Linux computer and is mounted directly to our circuit board, this is where most of the programming work will go into. Also on the button board is a stereo amplifier for the speakers, and a digital signal processing chip to help the microphones work better.
These circuit boards need a couple small tweaks which we are working on and we hope to release the next revision of the boards in a couple weeks.
CES 2018 and the prototype we have
CES 2018 was a huge success! We had incredible feedback from almost everyone that stopped by our booth and had some huge wins in the media. We also made some great retail and distribution contacts as well as some strategic partners we will be announcing soon. The best part of the show was meeting two of our backers that stopped by and introduced themselves, seriously guys, thanks.
Our booth was pretty small compared to some giants around us, but we had the comfiest couches at the show (as we were told) and encouraged people to stop by, take a break and charge their phone (using a Sandman of course). Next year at CES we are stepping up to a bigger booth and hope to meet some more of you there!
What do you want us to ask Alexa? Let us know in the comments!
These prototypes are made out of a couple machined pieces of plastic that were then hand assembled and painted. They were then sprayed with the same soft touch coating that we will be using for the production units. Our guys over at factory did an incredible job on them and they look almost perfect. We now have a bar to aim for with our injection molded parts that will be coming off the tooling, shortly. There are some things we want to improve, mainly with the buttons and the display, but we are confident those can be fixed in production.
Sandmandoppler.com is live
While we have been working hard on the engineering side of things we have been working on the website as well! Right before CES we launched sandmandoppler.com and sandmanclocks.com! Both sites are dedicated to one product each and we love how both of them turned out. If you can, please share with your friends! We are also still live on Indiegogo on-demand and are selling pre-orders over there as well. Spread the news!
In the next update, we plan on discussing updates to the Software, App, and to Alexa. We can’t wait until all of you guys get your hands on a Doppler and I’m sure you’re going to love it. If you ever have any questions or comments please let us know via Kickstarter, social media or email. Thanks again for your passionate support!
-The PAI team
Quick video update from CES!
over 1 year ago
– Tue, Jan 09, 2018 at 11:25:08 PM
Loyal Doppler supporters,
We are here at CES and decided to take a quick and impromptu video of a Doppler prototype we have here at the show.
Here is the video that we posted on facebook earlier tonight: