(Phys.org) —The world needs better drivers and a company with a simple vehicle-data-sniffing device gadget wants to do its bit to help people drive better and save money on car expense in doing so, at least in the United States. San Francisco startup Automatic today got an official boost from Apple for showing more people its device. Apple online and retail stores will now carry the company's product, a gadget plugged into cars that tells drivers about their performance and other car-related information, behaving as a personal driving assistant, without the realtime nagging of a human backseat driver. As of Wednesday, the startup's product, called Automatic Link, is available for purchase at Apple's U.S. stores and in the Apple Online Store. "We have some exciting news to share! Starting today, you can buy the Automatic Link in more than 250 Apple retail stores nationwide and on the Apple Online Store. The Link retails for $99.95. The app and service are free," announced Automatic on its web site Wednesday. This comes as a distribution boost for the company, founded in early 2012, which up to this time was selling its product through its own website. Now millions more can access or at least stumble on Automatic.
What is the product exactly? "Just plug the Automatic Link into your car's data port. Your car and smartphone will automatically connect whenever you drive, wirelessly." Thanks to the Link, you get a gadget that enables a conversation between the car computer and the app running on your smartphone. The Automatic Link, as it is called, is a $100 hardware device (on sale for $99.95) for those with an iPhone. The Link attaches to the OBD-II port. Most cars built after 1996 have this port. OBD stands for On-Board Diagnostics, the self-diagnostic and reporting capability of the car. The OBD-II standard specifies the type of diagnostic connector and its pinout, electrical signaling protocols available, and messaging format. In turn, the Link is enabling the computer of your car and phone to talk. Link and your phone work together to become your Smart Driving Assistant. (If you don't have your phone with you, Automatic doesn't work.)
The Link reads driving data from the on-board computer. The system beams driving details such as fuel use, mileage, engine status, and more back to an iPhone over Bluetooth. While the user drives, the phone stays connected to the onboard computer. So your car and phone are communicating thanks to the Link. Automatic can also be used to remember where you parked your car, and, while driving, if you brake too hard or accelerate too fast or go over a speed limit too often If and when a check engine light comes on, Automatic transmits a text message with more detailed information.
Automatic's Crash Alert tells if a driver had a car accident, alerts 911 with the driver's location, and can contact close relations to inform them the crash happened and that help is on its way. The success of the alert, nonetheless, would depend on a GPS signal, connection, and a working condition of the iPhone, which if damaged or disconnected by the crash would render the Alert unworkable. The success of this feature would also depend on the reliability of local emergency services.
The Automatic app only supports the iPhone now but an Android app is said to be in the works. "We know some of you have been waiting for an update on the Automatic app for Android, and we appreciate your patience," according to the site's message. "We're taking a lot of time and care in its development and incorporating what we've learned from our iPhone users these past few months. it's looking like the app will be available as a public beta in late November or early December." Also, Automatic supports regular gasoline cars and hybrid cars that use gasoline. Automatic does not support electric or natural gas cars.
Automatic is a startup that emerged from Y Combinator in 2011 and was founded in early 2012 by a group who met as graduate students at UC Berkeley. They were interested in crossroads of transportation engineering and computer science. They would talk about how spend a lot of money on cars, maybe $8,000 a year or more, and are not yet aware of how small changes in their driving style could lead to savings as well as safety. They started thinking about ways in which a driver could communicate with the car's computer and interface with the smartphone.
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