Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment
What do you get when you cross a portable navigation device and a cellphone? Dash Navigation's answer is the $399 Dash Express, the most credible attempt yet to crack the ancient driver conundrum of figuring out what's nearby and the best way to get to it. In doing so, it stands to elevate the portable navigation device from a glove compartment shut-in to a mobile mentor -- one that Dash hopes that customers will find valuable enough to justify $10 (or more) per month on a service fees.
Dash's cellular connectivity enables it to take a hybrid approach to traffic information. Routes for which Dash has available information are marked with either green, yellow or red lines depending on the heaviness of the traffic. Solid lines indicate that the data has been supplemented by the Dash driver network – cars that have Dash units sending information upstream in real time. Dashed lines convey information that Dash picks up via its historical traffic pattern information provider Inrix. Dash claims that it needs about 1,000 units in most cities to cover major routes, double or triple that for the largest US cities such as New York or Los Angeles.
Even with its emerging network, the Dash Express is surprisingly effective at routing around known trouble spots on the fly. And while it occasionally failed to pick up on congested stretches, on several occasions it was so accurate as to the emergence of traffic that the route turned red just as conditions forced the car to slow to a crawl. Even at its early stage, Dash certainly proves the concept of the traffic-routing prowess of a "live" GPS device.