How to program your husband’s car to call you if he parks in front of a Nevada brothel


The “Internet of Things” holds great potential for a new wave of innovation and connectivity, and now it extends to your car. Automatic, a classic startup that was launched in a Berkeley dorm room, connects your iPhone to your car’s onboard computer – and now, it also connects to any other Internet-enabled app or device. Do you have a smart home with an iPhone-enabled security and HVAC system? When you’re headed home from work at the end of the day, your car can send a message to your house to say, “We’re on the way, please turn up the heat and switch on the coffee pot.” 

Automatic just announced that they are integrating IFTTT (“If That Then This”) technology, which allows consumers to do wonderful things. Besides sending an “I’m on my way” message to a device, or even sending an SMS to a person, your car can send an alert to nearby friends via social media, or send them an SMS when you are in the neighborhood.  

Founder Ljuba Miljkovik described his start-up story. He and his co-founders Jerry and Pedro were graduate students at Berkeley, doing research about how people make transportation decisions. “Out of that work came the germ of understanding that people generally don’t know very much about their driving patterns, their cars, or how much time they spend there.” According to Ljuba, the average American spends about $8,000 a year on their car, with $3,000 of that being for fuel. The problem with the fuel component though, is that people tend to simply pay the price at the pump, and drive it until it’s low again. “There’s no decision-making made between fill-ups that could possibly influence how long you can go on a tank. That’s where the opportunity really came about, in thinking about how people make transportation decisions, and realizing that there is not any useful information for people.” 

Ljuba and his classmates realized that there has, for several years, been a small online diagnostics port on almost every car, but it has been useful only to mechanics for very specific uses. Average consumers very seldom made use of it, though the data coming out of it could be very useful. Therein they found an opportunity. “We could connect this to bring all this information into your phone, into the cloud, and give you insight into driving, along with other things like engine diagnostics and performance, and other factors that the data coming out of that port can really illuminate.” The result gives people insight into information they have never had access to before. “We live in a world where your door locks, lights, and thermostat can all be controlled from the Internet, but your car – the most expensive computer you will ever buy – is not connected to the Internet.” 

There are 250 million commercial cars on the road in America alone, and 15 million are being added every year. Most of those have no meaningful connection to the Internet. “There’s a huge opportunity to get the ‘connected car’ to happen, without waiting for automakers to build it into new models of cars down the road.” That is the premise of Automatic, a small, inexpensive, Internet-enabled device you place in the data port of virtually any automobile. 

The device has three big advantages in improving convenience, information, and safety. The convenience factor is obvious – forget where you parked your car? Call your car from your iPhone and it will tell you where it is at. Information? It can tell you how your driving is, how you can improve performance and mileage, and track driving reports for business. The safety aspect is a big one. The Automatic can detect a crash and automatically alert emergency services, and even call emergency contacts while you are on the line.  

The addition of IFTTT technology makes the Automatic incredibly powerful by triggering actions on the Internet, like automatically turning on the house lights when you drive up to your house. “Triggers” such as turning the ignition on or off, being in a specific area, or when the “check engine” light comes on will result in specific actions, such as turning on the house lights, sending an SMS message or posting to Facebook, or sending a message to a mechanic. There are several IFTTT “recipes” available, in the form of simple code snippets that can program the Automatic. These recipes range from “Log all of my trips to a Google spreadsheet” to “Send my parents a push notification when I reach my destination,” or “Call my spouse immediately if I park in front of a Nevada brothel.” 

According to Ljuba, “There are so many moments in the driver experience that can be improved with a product that’s connected to you all the time, like Automatic. Our goal really is to solve those problems for people, even the ones they may not think have solutions to them. I think that the driving feedback, and giving you a score about how efficient your habits are, is really just the start. People didn’t know that driving habits were even a factor in fuel efficiency, and it turns out that they’re an enormous factor. You can save hundreds of dollars a year by driving 65 on the freeway instead of 70. We make it easy for you to make those small changes that can have a huge impact. We’re exploring other ways to do things just like that.”


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