Automatic iPhone App Turns Cars Smart

Automatic, a combination app and hardware unit, seeks to fix one of the most fundamental problems in 21st Century life: your car is perhaps the most expensive computer you own, and it’s pretty bad. The app, which launches this may for $69.95, mixes your car’s data with Google Maps and gas pricing information to create a detailed record of your travels, including fuel efficiency, acceleration, and even engine alerts. It works by connecting to an oft-neglected data port – the car’s OBD-II Data Link Connector – which gives Automatic access to fuel, mileage, and engine information, which it communicates via Bluetooth to the iPhone. And the phone completes the circle by pulling in GPS data, fuel pricing, and map information to create a detailed image of every drive. And when you fill up with gas, it uses its database of stations and daily prices to compute your bill. 

Though these maps are at the core of the app, it also creates a fuel-efficiency score that goads the user into more gas-saving driving habits. As well, it has access to the engine alert codes usually pulled by mechanics, so the next time your “Check Engine” light appears, the app can tell you whether you have a genuine issue or whether the car just “needs service,” and can shut the light off from the phone. It even offers OnStar-style crash assistance. If the hardware’s accelerometer detects a crash, it triggers the Automatic HQ servers to dial 911 and provide what details it can. The biggest challenge is to ensure that the app works across all makes and models, with their unique idiosyncrasies. The app has been tested on more than 200 model/year combinations and so far, so good. If it’s successful across the board, this could be the most practical take on cloud-connected car computing to date, and a model to build on for the future.