Okay, so I couldn't help myself. Here was a device that I knew ran Linux with not only a GPRS connection, but also a Wi-Fi connection. There had to be a way to get to a Linux prompt on the thing.
First, I let the Dash associate with my home Wi-Fi and then tried to SSH to it. It turns out, it actually does have SSH listening; however, I didn't know the password (if there even were one, I haven't had a chance to attempt SSH brute-force attacks yet), and it could use SSH keys.
The Dash Express does have a USB port on the side and even comes with a USB cable to connect it to your computer, but currently, there is no official use for this port other than charging the battery. When you connect it to Linux, dmesg gives some hope:
Sep 1 21:53:11 minimus kernel: [ 1447.814648] usb 2-1: new full speed USB device using uhci_hcd and address 2 Sep 1 21:53:11 minimus kernel: [ 1447.880419] usb 2-1: configuration #1 chosen from 2 choices Sep 1 21:53:11 minimus kernel: [ 1448.182503] usb0: register 'cdc_ether' at usb-0000:00:1d.1-1, CDC Ethernet Device, d6:a5:89:03:18:fe Sep 1 21:53:11 minimus kernel: [ 1448.182834] usbcore: registered new interface driver cdc_ether Sep 1 21:53:12 minimus dhcdbd: message_handler: message handler not found under /com/redhat/dhcp/usb0 for sub-path usb0.dbus.get.reason
So, the device does show up as some sort of USB Ethernet device. Some research on the Internet led to a page that described how the OpenMoko phone had a similar connection, but unfortunately, if the Dash Express assigned itself a static IP, it didn't use the same one as the OpenMoko. I tried an nmap host discovery on all of the private IP space and even collected a few minutes of packets from the USB network to see whether there were any clues there, but as of yet, I haven't been able to get into the device.
Overall, the Dash Express is a very interesting GPS device. The Linux user in me wants to root for the underdog, especially if that underdog uses Linux as the OS on the device. The programmer in me is really drawn to the open API and the ability to write my own applications on the device and use the applications from a community of developers. The commuter in me likes a device aimed at delivering accurate traffic data. The gadget geek in me likes the concept of adding an Internet connection to a GPS device and is really interested in the potential that sort of improvement brings.
When it comes down to it, potential is the keyword for the Dash Express. Today, the Dash is a very useful GPS product with some advanced search features and Dash apps that no other competitor has—it just has some rough edges in some of the more fundamental GPS functions. It's the overall potential of the platform that is most compelling to me. I know that the rough parts are being worked on actively, and in the meantime, the community has added some great new free features to the device. As long as Dash can stay responsive to its users and especially to its developers (and maybe give us Linux geeks a peek under the hood), I think it's the GPS for geeks.
Kyle Rankin is a Senior Systems Administrator in the San Francisco Bay Area and the author of a number of books, including Knoppix Hacks and Ubuntu Hacks for O'Reilly Media. He is currently the president of the North Bay Linux Users' Group.
Kyle Rankin is a VP of engineering operations at Final, Inc., the author of a number of books including DevOps Troubleshooting and The Official Ubuntu Server Book, and is a columnist for Linux Journal. Follow him @kylerankin.
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