Thursday, May 21

Automatic: The Next Generation of the Quantitative Car

Two years ago, I risked eventual ridicule from all my friends by pre-ordering Automatic, the automobile equivalent of quantitative self / fitness gamification gadgets like the Fitbit or the Misfit. It took a few months after my pre-order to ship, but when it finally did, I plugged it in to my car’s OBD port and started tracking. Some things I loved (trip logging, MPG estimates1, and gentle nudges for better driving habits) and some things I didn’t (notably, decreased connection consistency over time, less than illuminating statistics and scoring). In short, I loved the data the adapter and app collected, but I grew wary of the alerts2 and missing trip data. It’s the kind of thing where I existed happily before having all of that trip data at my fingertips, but quickly gained a low tolerance for missing data after experiencing driving data nirvana.

Earlier this week, Automatic announced their next generation adapter and accompanying app store and developer platform3. I unplugged my first generation adapter a few months ago, so I don’t know if I can bring myself to buy an entirely new adapter, but it does have some compelling features. First, the new adapter has its own GPS tracking capabilities, which means it can track and record trips without being connected to your phone. Second, the adapter supports dual Bluetooth streams, so it can send data to Automatic’s own app as well as other third-party apps simultaneously.

Even if I don’t upgrade, I’m happy to see this start-up seemingly doing well enough to support second generation product development and a burgeoning application development platform. Modern cars track some of this data, but the dysfunction of car and electronics industry partnerships4 means you rarely have an opportunity to carry this data with you and learn something from it. Automatic is changing that, and for those who care, this week’s announcement is sure to be a boon for a customer base that seems to be healthy enough to support this thriving company.

  1. My 2007 Mazda3 doesn’t track such things.  ↩

  2. My wife might identify this emotion as anger rather than fatigue.  ↩

  3. They’ve been talking developer platform for a long time, the app gallery is the culmination of that effort.  ↩

  4. Ahem … CarPlay.  ↩