Automatic Launches Device, iPhone App to Make Cars Connected for Smarter Driving

San Francisco-based Automatic is the latest startup to tackle the connected car space with the launch of its hardware device, called the Automatic Link, that plugs into a vehicles’s on-board diagnostic port (ODB). The device helps simulate a smart driving assistant, providing information that helps drivers not only be more fuel-efficient, but drive safer and have more detailed information about what’s taking place under the hood, information which they can access via the company’s iPhone app. A Y Combinator company, Automatic is backed by Andreessen Horowitz and Founders Fund, among other investors.

Automatic  was co-founded by Thejo Kote and Jerry Jariyasunant, who were graduate students at UC Berkeley researching how to track and influence transportation behavior with smartphones. “We were studying transportation behavior looking at how people were getting around, understanding how much they know about the cost of transportation, emissions, and how much time they were spending with different modes of transportation. We figured out a lot of people weren’t really aware of how much money they were spending,” said Jariyasunant in an interview. “The average American spends about $8,000 a year on a car and we took a lot of what we learned in school and brought it to this company.”

After hooking up the device, the iPhone app acts as a dashboard for drivers to access a number of key variables, metrics, and insights aimed at keeping them safer, helping them be more fuel-efficient, and ultimately saving them money. Through the app they get personalized feedback via a weekly driver score that ranges from 0-100, a score that is based on variables such as how often they drive above a certain speed, or how often they brake hard or abuse the accelerator, so that they can get quick tips on what they could do differently. Using the Automatic Link, users are alerted via a built-in ‘chirp sound’ that lets them know when they’re engaged in habits that end up costing them in the long run and ties that with their weekly score.

Drivers can also see a timeline of all their trips which shows their route, the distance driven, and by licensing a database of nationwide daily gas prices, the startup’s app shows drivers how much a trip cost based on how much gas they used. Drivers can also keep tabs on where they’ve parked, and there’s also a crash alert service that automatically contacts emergency services to provide a driver’s name and location, while Automatic staff will also alert up to three of a driver’s designated emergency contacts. In terms of repairs and car issues, when a vehicle’s check engine light goes off, users get a push notification that details the nature of the problem, provides tips on how to fix the issue themselves, and helps them search for nearby mechanics by integrating with Yelp.

To install Automatic in their car drivers pay $69.95 for the Automatic Link device, with no monthly subscription service or fee users pay after they purchase the device. The company is accepting pre-orders starting today, with devices expected to ship at the beginning of May.

Similar to Automatic, BetaKit also recently covered another startup, Carvoyant, which lets users purchase a piece of hardware they can plug into their ODB and is focused on preventative care for their vehicles. Carvoyant told BetaKit they see themselves being hardware agnostic and rather envision building an ecosystem of third-party apps via its API. Startup Splitsecnd also launched recently to turn any car into a connected car, with drivers plugging the device into their cigarette lighter to have crash detection and emergency notification services, though it’s more an attempt to bring OnStar-like services to any car rather than a dashboard for drivers, and both SplitSecnd and OnStar charge a monthly subscription fee. Aside from OnStar’s in-car assistance tool, there are car companies like BMW that have their own connected car services, which drivers might feel negates the need for another device.

The team at Automatic says it’s focused on solving day-to-day issues and places an emphasis on the user experience, all of which it believes helps set it apart from competitors in the space. “We really set out to create a product that solves problems for people, problems around where did I park my car, problems around the check-engine light and the anxiety around talking to a mechanic, and also helping people save a lot of money on gas and maintenance expenses,” Chief Product Officer Ljuba Milijkovic said. “Though I think there are interesting products out there that may be more like a platform that helps others build products on top, I feel like we’ve skipped that and built a product that really helps people in their day-to-day lives.”

Although the company has been actively testing the product, it’s really waiting to get real user feedback to map out future feature developments. Currently, the app is functional on both iPhone 4S and 5, with the company looking to launch on Android later this year. With gas prices steadily rising and drivers continually looking for ways to cut costs, Automatic’s service looks to pair cost analyses with additional safety, maintenance, and emergency services, which could become a go-to comprehensive solution for today’s drivers looking to make their cars more connected.

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Humayun Khan

Humayun Khan is a Senior Writer and Analyst at BetaKit. A marketing graduate with honors, Humayun's work experience spans the fields of consumer behaviour with noted contributions in an academic paper published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology and market research consulting having coordinated projects for a major financial services client at Decode Inc. More recently he was involved in business strategy as a Business Analyst for an equipment rental outlet and prior in the National Marketing Department at Ernst & Young LLP. He is passionate about emerging and disrupting technology and its ability to transform and create entirely new industries.

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