A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Jedi Knights flew star ships while droid co-pilots fed them information about their vehicle’s condition, surroundings and the journey. While you can’t yet stick an R2-D2 on top of your Golf, a clever new gadget from the US does something similar.
The Automatic uses telematics technology but, crucially, it’s for your benefit, not for the benefit of your insurer. The device plugs into your car’s data port and syncs with your smartphone, using low-power Bluetooth 4.0, to give you all sorts of information about your car and driving. The Automatic smartphone app will then tell you, using subtle audio cues, when you’re wasting fuel by accelerating harshly or working your breaks too hard. Its American inventors say heeding Automatic’s advice could save you up to a third on gas. As with telematics insurance policies, the app will give you a weekly driving score too.
What’s particularly interesting is that, as the box plugs into your data port, you can run diagnostics on your own vehicle if there’s a problem, cutting out a costly trip to your local garage. Say, for example, your ‘check engine’ light were to pop up, the app would then give you a description of the problem and some possible solutions. You can even turn the warning light off with a couple of taps of your smartphone. As someone who’s had problems with faulty sensors resulting in a disco dashboard before, this would have been a god-send.
Just like telematics, the Automatic uses GPS technology to indicate your car’s position. Its creators say this allows for “seamless car sharing” among families, but it might be just as handy for keeping tabs on a recently-passed teen driver, or tracking down your car in a supermarket car park. And just like some cars with built-in telematics, the Automatic box can, er, automatically alert emergency services if it senses that you’ve been involved in a crash. If you want, it’ll tell a loved one that something has happened, but that help is on the way.
The bad news is that this particular piece of tech is only available in the US for the time being, where it’ll sell for $100 (around £60). Automatic Labs Inc does plan on rolling out worldwide, though. Watch the Automatic in action for yourself below:
Tech pundits have speculated that if the software was opened up to third-party developers, there could be all sorts of possibilities. Cross-country scavenger hunts? Improving your virtual driving stats in a video game with real-world mileage? Tracking a delivery van’s location in real-time so you won’t miss your parcel? In theory, they’re all a real possibility.