Published on July 5th, 2013 | by Eddie Leblanc0
Automatic Connects Cars To Smartphones, Internet
This is a wish come true. The check engine light of my 2003 Mazda MPV turned on over 6-months ago, and I never had the time to actually get it checked, even less fixed!
Well, with Automatic Labs’ Link, I might have found the perfect solution that will save me trips to the mechanic and money. It’s a dongle that connects to a car’s onboard computer, giving precious information about your car’s real fuel consumption, its problems, and a way to fix it. A lifesaver for people not mechanically inclined, like myself.
I’ve met last week with the Automatic team (8 full time, 6 part-time) in their cramped office in downtown San Francisco and talked to CEO Thejo Kote about what he calls a “smart driving assistant.” The $70 dongle will be shipping next month for iOS and in the Fall for Android.
Below is an edited version of our conversation as well as the full video interview.
TechPulse 360: What does the Automatic link do?
Thejo: Automatic is a smartphone application and a tiny accessory which connects to any car on the road to make it a smart connected car. It does 4 things:
it provides people insights and feedbacks about how they’re actually using their car and how much money you are actually doing it and it always know where your car is park and because it’s talking to the computer of your car, it knows when something goes wrong with it and when that check engine comes on, it can tell you what’s actually wrong finally, it can detect a crash, if you ever get into one and automatically calls for emergency assistance (911)
So all of that together, we think of it as their smart driving assistant.
How does it work?
The Automatic link connects to a port that every car sold since 1996 has. And it talks to your smartphone – there’s an Automatic app that runs on your smartphone – and that’s how it’s connected to the Internet.
How did you get the idea of creating the Automatic link?
This company came out of research that my co-founder Jerry (Jariyasunant) and I were conducting at UC Berkeley. And that research was at the crossroads of transportation, engineering and computer science. And we were trying to answer questions like how do people use cars and why do they make choices around the use of cars and how do they do it. And we realized that people spend a lot of money in cars, especially in America, the average family spends about $8,000 a year just in their car (and about $3,000 are spent on gas!). These are large amounts of money but the very interesting thing is that, people have no idea how it’s spent. And they have no idea that small changes in driving style can lead to very big savings money, in fuel efficiency. If you make small changes like go 70 mph in the highway instead of 80 mph consistently, your fuel efficiency goes up by 15%. Which when you’re spending $3,000/year, becomes a big amount over time. Since we can talk to the computer of your car – and your car is the most expensive computer people own but they don’t have access to it, it’s a blackbox – and interface it through your smartphone, there’s so much more you can do once you all of that information. Then you can build a product that is really useful and improves the ownership experience for people.
How did you go from idea to product?
Once we decided to create the company when we were in Berkeley, we graduated soon after, and in May 2011 we went to Y-Combinator and we were part of that Summer batch. And after ‘YC’, we raised money and our investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Fund and a number of angels. So we are very confortable on that front. So once we had that funding, we’ve been workingo nt hat product for more than a year now, and it involves a lot of moving parts and you need skills in hardware design, embedded software, mobile application development and large scale server side systems.
Why setting up here in San Francisco?
Partly because it’s the preference of the team as a whole. And I think, San Francisco is the best place for products that have one foot each in the world of engineering and really good design and user experience. And I think this is a place where that kind of talent naturally gravitate towards and so we just like San Francisco.