What does it actually do?
The Automatic Smart Driving Assistant and its companion smartphone app aim to make monitoring your vehicle’s performance as simple as monitoring your personal performance with a Fitbit or Nike FuelBand. As you drive, the Automatic sensor monitors your fuel economy, acceleration, deceleration, and speed. At the end of each week, Automatic compiles all of this data via the app and assigns a driving score. At the end of each trip, the app also compares your fuel economy with the EPA estimated values for your particular vehicle and lets you know how much the trip cost you using real-time fuel prices.
Meanwhile, it’s also tracking and logging your GPS position and can show you individual trips and routes on a map to let you know where you’ve been and how you got there. (This can be useful for helping drivers to learn their driving habits and in planning to possibly combine future trips.) At the end of each trip, Automatic also automatically logs the GPS position of your parked car so you can navigate back to your ride.
In the event that your car throws a Check Engine light, Automatic and its app will allow users to download the trouble code that caused the light to illuminate and automatically search an online database to explain what that code means and whether you should see a mechanic. In the event that the code was caused by something simple, such as a missing fuel cap, Automatic will also allow the user to clear the code and the Check Engine light.
Finally, should Automatic’s built-in accelerometer detect that you’ve been in a crash, the app can automatically contact emergency 911 services with your name, current location, and vehicle description. In the event that that crash was just a really, really big pothole, you can cancel the emergency call with the app on your smartphone.
How is this different from other OBD-II readers?
One of the problems that many users have with other fuel economy monitors or diagnostic devices is that they require quite a bit of know-how and inputting of parameters to get them working properly. (I’d wager that three of five people that I know don’t even know their vehicle’s engine displacement.) Even I have a hard time tweaking most OBD readers to accurately report fuel economy for CNET’s poor Chevrolet Aveo test car.
Like those fitness devices mentioned earlier, the Automatic Smart Driving Assistant pairs with the Apple iPhone 4S and 5 via a Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy connection, to preserve as much of your handset’s precious battery life as possible. There’s not much setup involved, Automatic’s designers have aimed at making the system as plug-and-play as possible. Simply plug the device into your car’s diagnostics port, pair the device with the app running on your smartphone and (if your vehicle isn’t automatically recognized as many will be) scan your car’s VIN bar code to automatically calibrate the device using an online database for the most accurate reading from your car without having to know anything about your car.
Do I really need another driving distraction?
One other way that Automatic distinguishes itself from other fuel economy monitors and diagnostic devices is that it does its thing automatically and without interaction from the driver. When you enter the vehicle, the Automatic and your phone automatically pair and the app automatically starts logging your location, driving habits, and fuel usage. The phone can stay in your pocket or can be used for other purposes, such as navigation, hands-free calling, or audio streaming to a car stereo without interrupting the process. Later, when you’re not driving and are ready to look at the data, it will all be there in the app.
Users can set audible alerts for high speeds and sudden acceleration or deceleration, often symptoms of inefficient driving. When the Automatic senses any of these conditions with either its built-in accelerometer or speed sensor, it can sound a beep with its built-in speaker. If audible alerts are disabled, the Automatic and its app can still log these events for viewing alongside the rest of the fuel economy and driving data later.
When can I get one and for how much?
The Automatic Smart Driving Assistant is available for preorder on Automatic Labs’ Web site for $69.95. The device will ship with iPhone 4S and 5 compatibility in May 2013. Android compatibility for select Bluetooth Low Energy-capable handsets will be added in the fall. For a projected list of those Android devices that will be supported, see Automatic’s Web site.