Automatic, Not for the People

automaticsda

I’m very interested in automation and the aggregation of life data, and am a longtime user of Dropcams (excellent), WeMos (very good), SmartThings (kludgy, but OK once you get them configured, and possibly about to suffer death by acquisition), Philips Hue (good) and IFTTT (maybe the best thing on the internet).

So when I read about the Automatic Smart Driving Assistant (a reasonable $99), the under-dash device that promised to connect my car to my iPhone and then to IFTTT, giving me all kinds of helpful data, geolocating my car, and making me a better driver, I was interested.  A month or so ago, I took the plunge.  Shortly thereafter, I bought a second one for my daughter’s car (some teenage driver monitoring can be done now, via the device, but Automatic has indicated better monitoring features are coming in the future).  Here’s a summary of my experience so far.

The good?  Installation is easy.  When it works, the device and app combination clearly has potential.  The developers have an active and friendly presence in the support forums.  I want to love this device.  Hopefully, one day I will.

The bad?  Just about everything else.  The device is completely dependent on your phone for capturing and recording data.  Most annoyingly, the device only connects to my iPhone about half the time (and yes, even with the app open in the background).  Which means that I get data on about half my trips, and nothing, nada on the rest.  A taste of honey and all that.  One of the killer (potential) features of the device is that, via IFTTT, it will automatically create a spreadsheet on Google Drive that automatically logs your trips.  Awesome, right?  Except here’s a screen cap of my current log, which- like the Automatic app itself- says I haven’t driven since Monday (three days ago).

automaticlog
There’s a lot more information in the spreadsheet. It’s more awesome than the limited capture above.  When it works, that is.

That’s actually better than the one in my daughter’s car.  It says she hasn’t driven in over a week.  She just got her license and her first car, and drives all the time.

Automatic says the failure to connect issue has, at least in part, to do with limitations under iOS.  OK, but isn’t that like selling a jet pack and then saying its failure to work properly has to do with gravity?

In sum, the Automatic Smart Driving Assistant clearly has potential.  When it works, it’s pretty awesome.  But it isn’t quite ready for prime time.