How Onboard Data Can Help Your Business

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Fleet management

Whether you run your own business or commute to someone else’s, you are highly dependent on your vehicle. Automatic, a free app combined with a $100 wireless adapter, can help optimize this costly and essential part of your operation.

The Automatic adapter plugs into a vehicle’s onboard computer via its ODB-II diagnostics port and connects to an iOS or Android smartphone via Bluetooth. With built-in GPS, the device keeps track of where your vehicle goes or -- perhaps even more useful -- where it’s parked. An accelerometer detects impacts, helping Automatic monitor for accidents and alerting the company to call for help on your behalf.

The device pulls together a treasure trove of data on your vehicle and driving activity. Every trip gets a tally for miles, minutes, miles per gallon and fuel cost. You can tap on each listing for more information, including a map overlay showing where you went.

On an everyday basis, having this kind of intelligence makes for smarter trip planning and driving. For example, it will tell you how many miles you can travel before you run out of gas. The Automatic output is clever and not distracting; the adapter chirps out brief tones to relay feedback on your driving– there’s one sound for lead-footed accelerations and another for jamming on the brakes.

All of this is window dressing to Automatic’s future. The company has opened up its API to software developers to increase the device’s utility. The Your Mechanic app ties into your vehicle’s diagnostics software and will hail a mobile mechanic who will come to your home or office to perform fixes and maintenance services. Expense and accounting apps Concur, Expensify and FreshBooks sync with your vehicle to automatically track mileage and flow the data into your expense reports and tax documents. And Automatic Fleet (now in invite-only beta) will give business owners the opportunity to manage multiple drivers through their real-time GPS locations and ETA at customers’ locations, based on route and traffic data.

While not yet as powerful as the dedicated enterprise telematics and fleet-management systems offered by Verizon, Ram or Ford, Automatic can let a small business enter the fleet-management game at a fraction of the cost.