Automatic Labs: New Auto Technology for Your Old Car
There’s lots of excitement these days about disruption in the auto industry, like smarter cars that can drive themselves for example. Companies like Faraday Future are promising to make driving your car a much more personalized experience with their soon to be unveiled electric vehicle built by ex-employees of Tesla. But what about those of us who already own one of the +250 million cars on the road today in the U.S.? Why can’t someone develop an app that integrates with my car to make it smarter? Well someone has, and that someone is a company called Automatic Labs.
Founded in 2013, Automatic Labs has taken in around $24 million in funding so far from investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Y Combinator, Comcast and auto technology company CDK Global (NASDAQ:CDK). Automatic has developed a device that plugs into your car and turns it into a platform for apps. Described often as “Fitbit for your car”, the device works for the majority of gasoline, hybrid, and diesel vehicles made for the U.S. that were manufactured after 1996, and is plugged into the OBD-II diagnostic connector port that every car has as seen below:
Once the Automatic Labs device is plugged in, you can now use their free mobile app to begin doing cool things like tracking your exact gas mileage, seeing the error codes when the “check engine” light comes, turning off the check engine light, and checking to see where you parked your car.
The Automatic adapter communicates with your phone via Bluetooth, and also comes with built-in GPS so that it can log trip routes even with no phone present. It also comes with a speaker that can be configured to provide “feedback” on your driving, say for example if you exceed 70mph, hard brake, or accelerate too fast (frankly, that sounds like a horrible feature). Using a built-in accelerometer, the adapter can also detect a crash, and will play a message to let you know it’s about to call for help. A crash alert agent then calls your phone to confirm that you need assistance, a service that’s provided free of charge.
So the adapter sounds really useful, and at a price point of $99, it’s affordable as well. You can buy one here for $99. From an investor’s perspective, Automatic Labs is a company that has some serious potential with their business model that promotes other companies to pay them royalties to access the data coming from the device. Automatic Labs has partnered with more than 20 third-party app developers who are building applications that pull information from its adapter which streams real-time data from your car’s computer and sensors to your phone. For example, there’s an app for Concur that allows you to easily log work your travel as a work expense. Another app allows you to split the cost of fuel with friends. There are performance apps that provide stats on your engine output and even lap times if you’re at a race track. For Uber drivers, there’s an app that calculates your profits after taking into account the fuel you use and time you spend waiting.
With CDK Global as an investor, a likely exit event would see them acquire Automatic Labs. CDK provides technology solutions to 27,000 car dealerships around the world, and this adapter would be the gateway for dealerships to access a tremendous wealth of data. The United Services Automobile Association (USAA) is also an investor in Automatic Labs, and speculation has it that there may be a use case here for the auto insurance industry to use Automatic’s data. The entire platform has tremendous potential, and though competing devices are being developed, Automatic has first-mover advantage.