Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Automatic For The Prius

Automatic_Link_2-up

I purchased Automatic over a year ago. It’s a little gizmo that plugs into the OBD port in your car and connects to your phone via Bluetooth. It gathers data that can warn you about issues with your vehicle (like telling you what’s really up when your check engine light comes on) and can improve your driving habits (Spoiler Alert: for me, it hasn’t).

Automatic’s launch was driven by a Kickstarter campaign but it’s now available at Best Buy and Amazon. Being obsessed with data, I backed it immediately. One year in and $99 later it’s cool, but not something I particularly need.

So what does it do?

Check Your Head
If a problem occurs in your car and the check engine light comes on, Automatic can decode the issue and tell you what’s up, potentially saving a trip to a mechanic. Thankfully, I haven’t had such a problem but it’s reassuring to know I could potentially save some cash getting an issue diagnosed.

Gas Panic
Automatic boasts that it can improve your driving habits by issuing you gentle alerts if you drive too fast or brake too hard – two traits that can cause greater fuel usage. For instance, when you go over 70mph, Automatic will beep at you. I turned that feature off after a few weeks. In theory it’s a good idea, but in practice it’s pretty annoying. Or maybe it proves that I drive like an asshole.

Day Tripper
I drive to multiple meetings every week and Automatic has been helpful in tracking where I go, so I always have the most accurate expense reports. In addition to the native app, they launched a website a few months ago that details your driving history. Handy if you want to track every burrito excursion.

Automatic_Dashboard_Family

IFTTT
This feature is pretty cool. Automatic is now supported in IFTTT so you can create your own recipes. For example, I have a Google Spreadsheet set up that tracks all my driving and is a much easier way to track business travel. You can also run tasks based on location. When I leave the office, I can turn my Nest on to ensure my house is heating up on my drive home. Or when I turn my ignition on within the geofence at home, I can make sure SmartThings has locked my house doors.

Here’s the thing though: it doesn’t always work. There is sometimes a significant delay between Automatic firing a trigger and IFTTT executing it. So if a recipe relies on location, you may be out of luck (in Automatic’s defense, this sometimes happens with other IFTTT recipes).

Another issue I’ve noticed is that Automatic does not always pair with your phone. I’ve noticed it’s particularly bad in the miserable Minnesota winters. So if you’re using it for any security features (like locking doors) make sure you have a backup.

One consequence I’ve found is that Automatic makes me question whether I even need a car. Considering my monthly car payment, it’s pretty depressing to see how little I drive in a typical week. Home. Work. Home. Work. Target. Home. Work. Chipotle Gym. Home.

The $99 price point is pretty hard to swallow but it’s a pretty cool gift though for the gadget guy with a penchant for tracking useless data or for someone who drives a lot for work.

Full Disclosure: I don’t drive a Prius but the pun drove me to write the blog.

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