April 14, 2014

Automatic Takes On My Driving Data, Says Slow Down

Data makes you smarter, and can make you improve your behavior. The more we learn about how what we consume impacts our bodies, how exercise can help you lose weight, and how smart energy use can reduce costs and be helpful for the environment, improves all our life decisions.

I've been a staunch Fitbit fanatic for about two years now, quickly brought Nest and Sunrun into my home to reduce our energy demands, and am now sporting a new device in my car that tracks my speed and acceleration, to help me save money on gas and be more efficient overall. The app's name is Automatic - which I first talked about back in May, but only finally received a week or two ago, when they completed the first rollout of their app on the Android platform. And now, every single time I drive my car, no matter where I'm going, the app (and the dongle which attaches by Bluetooth to keep things updated) are watching and alerting me to when I make any moves that aren't perfect.

Trip reports from Automatic Show Costs, Quality of Driving

Setting up Automatic was, as you would expect, very easy. I unpacked the device, plugged it into my car's on-board computer, connected it to my phone through their dedicated app, and was good to go. The pairing tracks every trip, including distance, speed and estimated miles per gallon, and uses that data to provide an estimated cost of the trip and an overall score, starting with 100 for driving perfection, and deducting any time I step out of line.

You Can Scroll Through Previous Trips and Get a Score from Automatic

Automatic's assumptions for what makes for bad driving are simple as well. It's assumed that if you are driving over 70 miles an hour, that you're using more fuel than you should. So every time I get out on open highway in my BMW, capable of doing much more than 70, and I hit that mark, the Automatic device makes a chirping sound, telling me to slow down. If I stay above 70 for a sustained amount of time, the alerts continue and seemingly change tenor to be more dramatic.

I also get alerted if I accelerate too quickly from a stop, or if I brake too suddenly (though I haven't yet encountered that in my small sample size of use so far). So if I peel out of an intersection, Automatic bleep bloops at me and marks it on my permanent record (so to speak) through the app, so I can feel guilty later.

I Can Even Locate My Car and Diagnose With Automatic

And like any good app that monitors driving, Automatic is set up to be your wingman should any problems arise. The dongle monitors engine health, and promises to avoid your needing to go to the dealership for repairs if your check engine light goes on, taking away one of life's greatest mysteries. Same goes for the hopefully unlikely chance you're in a crash. Using its crash alert capabilities, Automatic swears it can report any accident to the proper authorities, even if you're unable to. I hope to never ever use this feature, but any added value in my book is a good thing.

So what of my trips? I haven't taken the car out for a long drive of any massive length since getting started. As I found when I started using Fitbit and later, the Nest thermostat and SunRun solar panels, simply having the data in front of me had me thinking about the sources of the data a little bit more. I walked more. I ate less. I turned down the heat and root for sunny days to save me money. To avoid getting yelled at by my Automatic, I find myself hovering around 68-69 miles an hour instead of above 70, so my overall score gets closer to 100.

The Automatic Link dongle for your car - not so big.

But I'd also like to give Automatic more data - like telling it to alert me if I'm going 10 MPH or more above the posted speed limits, or to set the speed warning at 75 instead of 70, little things that would make the device and accompanying app a little better and more personal, instead of acting like one size fits all. Also, by looking at the data, I found the one time I sustained my speed above 70, on highway 280 here in the Valley, I actually had higher miles per gallon than average. So it could be what's always considered bad, maybe isn't.

It's early days for Automatic for me, and I'm bullish on the trend of gadgets making us all smarter. So if I can withstand the occasional sharp chirp from my Automatic Link telling me I'm a non-ideal driver, over time I'll get even better. And I'm looking forward to even more data as the sample size increases. You can check out Automatic at https://www.automatic.com/.

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