Hands-On with the 'Automatic' Connected Driving Assistant System

by

Announced earlier this year, the Automatic Smart Driving Assistant is a Bluetooth 4.0 device that plugs in to your car's OBD-II port. Typically found somewhere under the steering wheel of every vehicle made after 1996 in the USA, the OBD-II port provides all sorts of useful diagnostic information which traditionally is only used by mechanics and for emissions testing.

Over the years, a number of devices have been released for home mechanics to connect to this port -- both to a Mac via USB and to iOS devices via the dock port. However, for the mechanical layman none of them have been that useful, with functionality specifically for figuring out why your "Check Engine" light is on or otherwise tuning/tweaking your engine.

automatic_eli_package
Automatic changes all that. The Smart Driving Assistant is about the size of two matchbooks, and lives its life constantly connected to your car's OBD-II port. Unboxing the device is uneventful, as all that's really in the box is the Smart Driving Assistant, a small Automatic "A" bumper sticker, and a piece of paper that essentially tells you to download the Automatic app on your iPhone. Setup is simple, and involves creating a simple login to the Automatic service and then pairing your iPhone using the unique security code printed on the bottom of the Smart Driving Assistant.

automatic_eli_obd
From there, it asks you to start your vehicle, and you're on your way. Amusingly enough, to get the setup to actually finish the engine of your car has to start. I drive a 2011 Prius, and the internal combustion engine only fires up when it's actually needed. So, there was a bit of confusion between what the app was asking me to do (simply start my car) and what I needed to do, which amounted to just driving around the block so the gas engine started.

The Automatic app runs in the background and automatically connects to the Smart Driving Assistant whenever you get in your car. Regardless of whether or not you even have the app open, once you start driving, it begins tracking everything you're doing. Data points captured include how long you were driving (both in time and distance), your miles per gallon, how many times you both braked or accelerated too hard, and how many minutes you were driving over 70 miles per hour. Your route is also saved and plotted on a map, and by tracking local gas prices the app computes how much each trip cost you.

All of this data is tallied together for your weekly totals and averages which is displayed at the top of your driving timeline. Additionally, using the information the app collects, it computes a "Drive Score" to grade you on how efficiently it thinks you're driving. In its current implementation this scoring system seems crazy, as right now I'm rocking a 35 out of 100 in my Prius, regardless of the fact that I'm exceeding the EPA estimated MPG of my car. The Automatic blog mentions tweaking this formula, as right now it is not computed on a specific car-by-car basis and instead is just grading you on hard brakes, acceleration, and how often you're driving over 70 MPH.

automatic_eli_tracking
Arguably the most useful feature of the Automatic Smart Driving Assistant's current implementation is seamlessly saving the location of where you parked your car. When you turn off your car, the app tags your current GPS location, and a simple tap loads up a full-screen map showing where you are in relation to your car. In my experience, accuracy of this feature has been fantastic, and way more useful than my typical routine of wandering through the parking lot pressing the lock button on my key fob over and over when I can't find my car.

Without a doubt, the geek-factor of the Automatic Smart Driving Assistant is off the charts. Being able to load up an app and see exactly where your car is, exactly how much each trip cost you in gas, and everything else feels futuristic -- particularly with how seamless this all is with the automatic Bluetooth connection and background data collection. It's also by far the most user-friendly OBD-II device I've seen, in that it parses the data the port can deliver in a very easy to understand format even for the least mechanically-minded drivers out there. The system also remains in beta testing, although it is unclear whether any additional features will be added before the official launch.

However, just how useful the Smart Driving Assistant actually is in reducing fuel consumption is debatable. It aims to save gas by reducing the amount of hard braking you do, how much of a lead foot you have, and how much you speed. But, do you really need a $70 gizmo to tell you that? Just simply making an effort to drive more slowly and conservatively, and both gradually accelerating and braking will have the same effect -- all without spending $70.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
91 months ago

How to say this politely....

What a piece of...no, that won't work.

Do I give a ...ah...darn if the piece of...er...junk thinks I accelerated too hard? And by whose standards...some dork sitting behind a computer who thinks driving is about going nice and slow (probably in the left lane) in their automatic shift, never-go-over-the-speed-limit, boring piece of...junk...car?

All that other ...ah...stuff (aside from the find your car thing), is useless and silly ca-ca, fit for folks for whom driving is a data gathering chore.

Of course, I'm just speaking for myself, and perhaps a few other people who enjoy driving and have gone to the bother of actually learning how to drive well. :D


Before going off just what was mentioned in this article, you should check out some of the other cool features, like it will call 911 when you are in accident and it gives the dispatcher your GPS info. It will also tell you why the "Check Engine" light is on, giving you the actual error codes and the remedy for the issue. I understand not everyone cares about pollution and the world we live in, but if people changed their driving habits just a bit, things would be better.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
91 months ago
How to say this politely....

What a piece of...no, that won't work.

Do I give a ...ah...darn if the piece of...er...junk thinks I accelerated too hard? And by whose standards...some dork sitting behind a computer who thinks driving is about going nice and slow (probably in the left lane) in their automatic shift, never-go-over-the-speed-limit, boring piece of...junk...car?

All that other ...ah...stuff (aside from the find your car thing), is useless and silly ca-ca, fit for folks for whom driving is a data gathering chore.

Of course, I'm just speaking for myself, and perhaps a few other people who enjoy driving and have gone to the bother of actually learning how to drive well. :D
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
91 months ago

How to say this politely....

What a piece of...no, that won't work.

Do I give a ...ah...darn if the piece of...er...junk thinks I accelerated too hard? And by whose standards...some dork sitting behind a computer who thinks driving is about going nice and slow (probably in the left lane) in their automatic shift, never-go-over-the-speed-limit, boring piece of...junk...car?
...

That particular feature, obviously, is for people who already think for themselves that they are driving inefficiently. This is a tool to help. Among a great many other features.

You might as well ask, Do I care if some so-called "scale" thinks I weigh too much?? That scale is useful because you already care about your weight, not because you care about the scale-manufacturer's opinions.


So all this data goes up to Automatic servers and thus the NSA? Can you link the BT ODB dongle to the phone without the app uploading that data?

Good question (as horrifying as it is to hear myself say that). If there's any online component, it should be optional I would hope! The thing should be able to run on BT alone with no Internet involved.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
91 months ago
I don't think that little box is big enough to fit my "Hard Accels" count.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
91 months ago

How to say this politely....

What a piece of...no, that won't work.

Do I give a ...ah...darn if the piece of...er...junk thinks I accelerated too hard? And by whose standards...some dork sitting behind a computer who thinks driving is about going nice and slow (probably in the left lane) in their automatic shift, never-go-over-the-speed-limit, boring piece of...junk...car?

All that other ...ah...stuff (aside from the find your car thing), is useless and silly ca-ca, fit for folks for whom driving is a data gathering chore.

Of course, I'm just speaking for myself, and perhaps a few other people who enjoy driving and have gone to the bother of actually learning how to drive well. :D


Uh, what?
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
91 months ago
Is that the port that is hackable when the NSA/CIA want to terminate you? :rolleyes:
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple Takes Legal Action Against Small Company With Pear Logo

Saturday August 8, 2020 11:09 am PDT by
Apple is taking legal action against the developers of the app "Prepear" due to its logo, according to iPhone in Canada. Prepear is an app that helps users discover recipes, plan meals, make lists, and arrange grocery deliveries. The app is a spinoff of "Super Healthy Kids," and the founders claim that they are facing litigation from Apple. Apple reportedly takes issue with Prepear's logo, ...

Apple Seeds iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 Public Beta 4 to Testers

Thursday August 6, 2020 10:05 am PDT by
Apple today seeded new public betas of upcoming iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 updates to its public beta testing group. Today's software releases, which Apple labels as fourth betas to keep them in line with developer betas, are actually the third betas that Apple has provided and they come two weeks after the prior beta releases. Public beta testers who have signed up for Apple's beta testing...

Supposed iPhone 12 Display Unit Leaks

Thursday August 6, 2020 8:13 am PDT by
An image supposedly of an iPhone 12 display unit has been shared online by leaker "Twitter user Mr. White". Compared to images of an iPhone 11 Pro display piece, this new unit has a reoriented display connector, reaching up from the bottom of the display, rather than from the left-hand side on iPhone 11 Pro. This may be due to the logic board moving to the other side of the device. A...

8 Third-Party Home Screen Widgets That You Can Try Out Now on iOS 14

Wednesday August 5, 2020 12:56 pm PDT by
One of the biggest new features of iOS 14 is Home Screen widgets, which provide information from apps at a glance. The widgets can be pinned to the Home Screen in various spots and sizes, allowing for many different layouts. When the iOS 14 beta was first released in June, widgets were limited to Apple's own apps like Calendar and Weather, but several third-party developers have begun to test ...

New 27-Inch iMac's Storage Affixed to Logic Board, 4TB and 8TB Configurations Have Expansion Connector

Friday August 7, 2020 7:46 am PDT by
Following a report from German blog iFun.de that claimed the new 27-inch iMac's flash storage is soldered to the logic board, MacRumors has obtained additional information in an internal document for Apple technicians. In the document, Apple says that the flash storage is indeed affixed to the logic board and cannot be removed. However, for the 4TB and 8TB configurations, Apple says that a...

2020 iMac Teardown Reveals Internal Changes and Similarities

Saturday August 8, 2020 12:44 pm PDT by
A teardown video, shared by OWC, reveals the internal changes in the new 2020 27-inch iMac. The 2020 27-inch iMac was announced earlier this week with 10th-generation Intel Core processors, AMD Radeon Pro 5000 series graphics, up to 128GB of RAM, up to 8TB of storage, a 1080p front-facing FaceTime camera, a True Tone display with a nano-texture glass option, higher fidelity speakers, and...

Kuo: iPhone 12 Camera Lens Supplier Experiencing Quality Issues, But May Not Affect Launch Schedule

Thursday August 6, 2020 9:30 pm PDT by
One of Apple's camera lens suppliers for the upcoming non-Pro iPhone 12 models is having quality issues, according to a new research note from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo seen by MacRumors. The issues are, however, unlikely to have an impact on Apple's shipping schedule, presuming that Apple's other main supplier can make up the difference. Kuo says that Genius Electronic Optical has discovered...

Google's $349 Pixel 4a vs. Apple's $399 iPhone SE

Wednesday August 5, 2020 1:45 pm PDT by
Google this week launched its newest smartphone, the $349 Pixel 4a, a low-cost device that's designed to compete with other affordable devices like Apple's iPhone SE. We picked up one of the new Pixel 4a smartphones and thought we'd check it out to see how it measures up to the iPhone SE, given that the two devices have such similar price points. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel ...

Sony WH-1000XM4 Noise-Canceling Headphones Now Available for $350

Friday August 7, 2020 2:01 am PDT by
Sony's flagship WH-1000MX3 noise-canceling headphones have been among the best on the market for some time, and this week Sony released its fourth-generation WH-1000XM4 headphones boasting some notable improvements on the previous model. The XM4s feature the same basic design as the XM3s, but are one gram lighter at 254 grams due to slightly larger ear pads and some subtle tweaks to the...

Apple Announces New 27-Inch iMac With 10th-Gen Processors, Up to 128GB RAM, 1080p Webcam, True Tone, and More

Tuesday August 4, 2020 8:07 am PDT by
Apple today announced a new 27-inch iMac with faster 10th-generation Intel Core processor options, next-generation AMD graphics, up to 128GB of RAM, a higher-resolution 1080p front-facing FaceTime camera, a True Tone display with a nano-texture glass option, a T2 chip, higher fidelity speakers, studio-quality microphones, and more. A breakdown of the new 27-inch iMac's features and specs:10th...