Dash Express

While in-car GPS technology may have tackled basic geography by letting drivers pinpoint their locations instantly and plot out directions on the fly, gadgetry still hasn’t quite found a way of dealing with that constantly shifting nemesis of drivers everywhere: traffic. Besides the spontaneous and inconsistent reports from traffic helicopters in urban areas, the best that most drivers have to go on to find the clearest route from point A to point B is just a hunch. But a clever solution may be on the horizon.

The Dash Express, an upcoming GPS device from Dash, a Californian startup, will use a new way of plotting traffic patterns and mapping out problem areas. Rather than relying on helicopters and accident reports to inefficiently pipe data down to GPS devices, Dash Express buyers will serve as their own traffic spotters, benefitting from the collective traffic data of every other Express owner on the road.

Dash Express
Image Courtesy of Dash

The same way a friend might call from the highway to tell you avoid a certain route on the way home from work, all Dash Express units automatically collect information about traffic conditions where they are, then “call home” by sending that information back to the company, building one big network of real-time traffic information. Each car isn’t just using the Dash Driver Network, it’s actively contributing to it and improving it.

An integrated GRPS radio, the same kind found inside many cell phones, makes this data-swapping act possible. Although the Dash Express also packs a more conventional Wi-Fi radio for stationary link-ups, the GPRS connection allows the Dash Express system to send and receive data even when it’s on the move, and nowhere near a Wi-Fi base station.

As an extra benefit to adding a GPRS radio for keeping tabs on traffic, Dash Express also performs local searches through Yahoo rather than a built-in database of businesses. This “connected search” actually sends search queries to Yahoo and bounces results back, meaning the locations you find are as up to date as possible. It also churns up extra information, including user ratings for restaurants, prices at gas stations, and which movies are playing at different theaters.

Since the Dash Express unit sends and receives data through cell towers, users need to subscribe to Dash Service to maintain their connections. However, at $12.99 per month (or $9.99 with a two-year contract) the fee weighs in at less than most cell phone data plans, and there’s no cap on how much it can be used.

Like many other in-car GPS navigators, the Dash Express uses a touch screen display as its sole user interface. The 4.3-inch screen gives it a respectable viewing area, although a side profile shaped like a lowercase “r” makes it slightly bulkier as well. Dash explains that the unusual shape is due to the three antennas the case must house: for Wi-Fi, GPRS, and GPS. To position it for the best reception and view, the unit also comes packaged with a kit for mounting it on a car’s dashboard.

As for that Wi-Fi radio, Dash mainly intends for it to be used in driveway, so the device can wirelessly interface with computers in the house. The Send2Car feature, for instance, allows users to highlight addresses on the web and send them straight to the device. MyDash, an online tool, even makes it possible to tweak the Dash Express interface with customized search buttons, lists of frequently visited places, and data feeds.

Although the Dash Express navigator isn’t yet available, Dash began taking preorders for the system in December, and its ship date of March 27 is now less than a month away. The $599.99 USD price certainly places it in the upper echelon of automotive GPS devices, but the Dash Driver Network hasn’t yet been matched by anyone else, including other high-end systems, making the Dash Express quite unique. For urban drivers who wrangle with clogged-up highways on a day-to-day basis, a way out could certainly be worth the high cost of admission if the Dash Express delivers as planned. More information can be found at the Dash website.