Automatic Wants to Min-Max Your Driving

By Norman Chan

Tap into your driving data to save money on gas.

Automatic is a new company that wants you to track your driving habits the way you do your daily exercise. And like fitness trackers that you strap onto your wrist or hook onto your belt, Automatic is a Bluetooth connected dongle that attaches to a car's Onboard Diagnostics Port (OBD). Almost every car made after 1996 is equipped with one under the steering wheel--it's the same port technicians use to perform check-ups. The Link unit sends data to a tethered smartphone (which won't interfere with existing Bluetooth connections) and stores that on an app for analysis--the dongle doesn't actually store any information. That data--braking, sudden acceleration, speeding, etc--is then paired with your phone's GPS data to help you optimize your driving. One example given is the ability to track where and when you're refueling and compare those costs to alternative gas stations in your area.

Modern cars--especially hybrids--give some degree of data analysis, but the algorithms behind that feedback isn't transparent to drivers. My car can give an estimate of how many miles I can drive on a full tank, but that doesn't seem to adjust for different driving styles and conditions, nor is that feedback system upgradeable. An app-based tracking system that uses the same driving data coupled with up-to-date geographical data could be a huge improvement. Automatic is available for pre-order now at $70 and the iOS compatible model is expected to ship in May, with Android support coming in the Fall. We'll be testing it as soon as possible.