Automatic is something like Google Analytics for your car. It’s a half gadget/half app solution that solves a few problems every car driver faces: wasting gas, keeping your engine running in top shape and calling for help in an emergency. It also keeps track of where you’ve been and provides some interesting driving statistics.
I have to say, Automatic is a hot commodity among the Silicon Valley and early adopter crowds that’s been popping up all over my news radar. Just last week here on DailyTekk a startup founder mentioned it in his Obsessions interview (and let me just take this opportunity to say: haha, I got my hands on one first).
To get started with Automatic, you simply plug the Automatic Link (the gadget part of the equation) into your car’s data port. Most car’s manufactured after 1996 are compatible. Next, download the iPhone app and get the two talking to each other via Bluetooth. After that, put the petal to the metal (just not too fast… otherwise Automatic will give you a friendly scolding).
The Automatic Link is tiny—maybe a little larger than a matchbook. It stays out of the way and if it weren’t for the occasional beep you wouldn’t even know it was there.
The app is where is magic happens. When you open it you get a dashboard that shows you the totals for your weekly driving. The first thing you’ll notice is your score: a quick metric that lets you know how well you’re doing in terms of saving money on gas. Surrounding your score you’ll get a quick glimpse of miles driven, hours spent driving, estimated MPG and fuel spent in dollars.
Directly underneath this information you’ll see your trips. Each trip shows a starting and ending destination (and time of departure and arrival), miles driven, gas spent, number of hard breaks, minutes spent over 70 MPH and number of hard accelerations. Instead of a traditional scroll bar, there’s an awesome little car that “drives” up and down as you scroll, signaling going from Point A to Point B for each trip.
There are a few features I’m happy to say I haven’t had a chance to test yet: crash alerts and engine health push notifications. My cars still relatively new and in good shape, but it’s nice to know that I can find out a.) that my engine light is on and b.) real details (the same details a mechanic would see) about what might be wrong. It’s of course comforting to know that were I to be in a bad accident and unable to call for help (especially on an isolated road) that Automatic would reach emergency responders on my behalf.
But does it work?
I’ve been testing Automatic for a couple of weeks and so far I’m really loving it, even if it does tell me I’ve got some improving to do. Last week my driving score was a humble 51.
One recent trip took me 21.4 miles, cost me $1.87 in gas, consisted of 3 hard brakes, 2 hard accelerations and 5 minutes over 70 MPH. It’s really awesome to be able to see how much gas I’m actually burning up per trip. It’s something I’ve always wondered about. I think it’s the most powerful feature of the app because when you know what something is costing you, you’re more likely to pay attention to what you can do to keep costs down.
Seeing how much my driving style is costing me in real dollars is powerful by itself, but Automatic has a few tricks up it’s sleeve that really help press the point home. If the app just tracked my behavior and I happened to glance at my data every now and then, it’s doubtful that I’d make any real changes. But the device like to chirp at me to alert me when I’m in the middle of an especially gas-hungry maneuver which actually gives me a chance to make a correction when it counts—while I’m driving.
What’s funny is that, as the owner of a hybrid car, I didn’t really think I’d get much use of this gadget. Was I ever wrong. It’s taught me that there’s always room for improvement and that just because a car is built to get better gas mileage, it may not reach it’s full potential without some mindfulness and intention on the part of the driver.
I’d recommend the Automatic to anyone who wants to save money and/or wants to keep their car in top shape. This is one gadget that delivers on the (well-earned) hype.