The Quantified Car

on November 19, 2013
Reading Time: 3 minutes

It is easy to make the assumption that most if not all electric products will have a companion app or be managed by a software platform in the future by a smart screen of some kind. Trying out these solutions as they stand today help to make sense of what they may look like or how they may be used tomorrow. Lately, I’ve been trying a product from a company called Automatic which links to a software app and begins tracking important data related to a car. I think of it like a health and fitness wearable for your car.

You plug Automatic’s hardware into your cars diagnostic port. It then connects to your smartphone with Bluetooth 4.0 and begins tracking things like time, distance, MPG, and how much money in gas you spent during each drive. At the end of the day or week you have a running tally of all those stats for the day or week.

As I started using this it felt like my first experience using a health and fitness wearable. Until such devices came along we had no real way to consistently measure things like steps, time spent sleeping, heart rate, and more throughout our days. Getting all this data was eye opening to me. Then the question becomes what do you do with it?

In the case of health and fitness wearables, tracking steps is useful if you have a goal of staying active or getting a certain amount of steps in each day. The data is useful in so much as you use it to modify your behavior in ways you see fit. And so the folks at Automatic added similar features into their solution. Namely, getting better gas mileage and decreasing wear and tear to your car.

This is accomplished by audible sounds, in this case a beep, when you go over 70 mph or when you accelerate too fast from a stop. Both driving over 70 mph for long periods of time and accelerating too fast are known to yield poor gas mileage. The other sound it makes is when you brake to hard. This increases wear to your car’s brakes and overall safety and is recommended to avoid. While I have no way to quantify the braking component in terms of tangible results, I did notice that my car’s average MPG went from 32.1 MPG to 37.7 (I have a Kia Optima Hybrid) just by abiding by Automatic’s audible noises which alert me when I went over 70 mph and decreased my speed to less than that. Another case of using data for quantified results which I would not have had without the help of connected hardware and companion software.

All of this brings up an important point. The key to quantified hardware is in its customization. Everyone’s goals and habits will be different. So the software needs to be dynamic enough to allow a full range of customizations for the person who is using it. These types of solutions, whether they be health and fitness wearables, connected car, connected home, connected watch, etc., all need to be highly customizable for the specialized interests of the buyer. This is why a one-size-fits all solution will not work in this space.

While Automatic’s solution is interesting, I assume that this type of technology will be built into all cars in the future. Your car will come with an app, your appliances will come with an app, even your toilet will come with an app that monitors their use in some way. Diverse connected hardware offerings combined with robust and dynamic software is what will turn these visions into reality and bring them from the early adopters to the mass market.