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How to Plug In to the Computer in Your Car

Your car has a computer, but chances are you’re not very good at using it. That’s not your fault. A lot of that computing power is under the hood, so to speak, and your car’s user interface needs to be simple enough to be operated while driving. But a new service promises to sync your car’s computer with a device you’re much more familiar with: your smartphone.

It’s called Automatic, and it looks pretty nifty. For $69.95, you get a chunk of plastic-covered gadget that plugs into your car’s data port. We’ve never seen a data port in a car, but in their promotional video Automatic finds it easily on a Mini Cooper, and for now they seem confident that their product will work with any gasoline-powered car made after 1996.

Once you’re plugged in, you can sync Automatic with an app on your phone via low-power Bluetooth. That’s when things get interesting.

Automatic monitors how you drive, beeping at you if you brake too quickly, accelerate too fast, or speed. The idea is to help you change your driving habits to conserve gas and save you money. You can review trips you’ve made to see exactly how far you traveled, how long it took, and your MPG. If you get in an accident, your phone can automatically dial 911 and any loved ones you want to notify. It can also help you find your car if you’ve forgotten where you parked. But here’s the coup de grace: it will describe what is actually wrong with your car when your “check engine” light goes on. If the problem is an easy fix, you can turn that pesky light off yourself.

Via Meadia hasn’t tested this technology personally (although we’d be happy to try), and we don’t know whether it works as well as it appears to. But this is the sort of technology we need to bridge our current driving habits to the self-driving car technology on the horizon. Get acquainted with your car’s computer now. Soon, it will be taking the wheel.

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