Automatic brings the Internet of Things to your car
If there's one topic that absolutely fascinates me these days, it's the "Internet of Things" -- connected devices that talk to our smartphones and tablets that can provide us with information. Now that information can be as simple as telling us what the temperature is, whether a door is opened or closed, or if somebody has entered or left a room, or it can be as complex as telling us how we're driving.
That latter use case is exactly where Automatic (US$99.95) comes into play. Usable in practically every car manufactured in the US since 1996, Automatic consists of a dongle called the Link that plugs into the data port of your car -- otherwise known as the OBD (on board diagnostics) port -- and an application that runs on your iPhone. The two communicate via Bluetooth 4.0, so that at the end of every drive you have an idea of how far you drove, how much gas you used (works for gasoline and hybrid vehicles), how much it cost to drive that distance, and what your average gas mileage was during that drive.
But that's not all Automatic does. By watching how you drive, it provides a 0 to 100 score (with 100 being the best) on how efficient your driving is. That is determined by looking at how many times you accelerate too quickly, jam on your brakes, or drive at speeds over 70 miles per hour. There's a new beta feature that can notify emergency personnel and loved ones if your car is in an accident, and the combination of the app and the Link always remembers where you parked your car -- even if you don't remember. If you ever get one of those "Check Engine" lights on your car, Automatic will tell you what's happening and in some cases will even let you turn the light off.
I'm currently testing one of the Automatic dongles and so far have found it and the app to be a surprisingly powerful combo. I have a 2007 Honda CR-V and found the OBD port without difficulty under the steering wheel of the car. The Automatic app takes you step by step through entering a specific code that identifies the Link, setting up a free account, initializing the link between Link and phone, and then acquiring the vehicle identification number (VIN) and doing an initial conversation with your car's computer.
The setup process is fast and easy, taking me about two minutes to complete. All you need to do after you've set up the Link is drive. The device and your iPhone will notify you if you're stomping on the gas pedal or brakes too hard, or if you happen to get into that inefficient driving zone above 70 mph. After a drive, your stats are immediately viewable in the app. I was happy to see that I'm a very efficient driver, scoring a 100 (top score!) so far.
Yesterday I went to our local grocery store and was confronted with bad traffic due to an accident. Sure enough, looking at the Automatic results after the fact, it's obvious that it not only took longer to drive the 3.4 miles to the store than it did to return from there, but that sitting in a traffic jam while the police cleaned up the accident cost me an additional 22 cents of fuel.
What initially got me interested in Automatic was noticing that the device has its own IFTTT (IF This Then That) channel. Automatic triggers include New Trip Completed, Ignition Turned On, Ignition Turned On In Area, Ignition Turned Off, Ignition Turned Off In Area, Check Engine Light Turned On, and Check Engine Light Turned Off.
The IFTTT integration is amazing, because it means that you can create recipes that do things like automatically log all of your trips to a Google Drive spreadsheet, have an email sent to your mechanic automatically if the Check Engine light goes on, upload or email a map of your road trip, and more.
While I will wait to do an official review of Automatic until I've had some time to use it and test out the IFTTT integration, I'm already very impressed with what appears to be a solid and very useful tool for anyone who drives.
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