The connected car gets its own app store

Automatic, who makes a dongle for the car that pulls driving data from the On-board Diagnostics II System, has just upgraded its device by adding GPS—and it's launched an app store.

Automatic app store for connected car
Credit: Automatic

Apple's App Store was launched on July 10, 2008 with 552 apps. The first weekend saw 10 million downloads.

"Stunning," was Apple CEO Steve Jobs comment at the time, according to Macworld.

Well, as we know, apps have since taken off and app stores have spread to different devices. The latest of which is the connected car's first app gallery, just announced.

Dongle

It comes from Automatic, a company that makes a proprietary dongle for the car that grabs data from the vehicle's On-board Diagnostics II System (OBD-II). Automatic merges that data with other sensors.

The new apps on Automatic's website promise to not only provide tools for displaying information about your car and driving habits, as one might expect them to do, but they will also remind you where you parked, get friends to chip-in for rides, and connect your car to online services, among other things.

An API developer platform was announced as well.

Socket

Automatic's $99 Bluetooth-enabled device is a smartphone wall-charger-sized adapter that plugs into the car's OBD-II port. The Automatic then connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone or watch to provide data.

The OBD-II port is the plug socket found in the driver's foot-well. Automobile service technicians use it to scan for engine and emissions problems.

Adding sensors

The port-connected adapter adds sensors and provides connectivity to the mix.

It includes a built-in GPS that can log trips without a phone being present, an accelerometer for collision reporting, wireless encryption, and audio capabilities.

Those adapter sensors are coupled with data from the car's onboard computer to provide smart-car features.

Apps

Available apps in the store are split into four areas:

  1. Apps for business, such as for fleet managers and professional drivers. They include vehicle cost management and expense reporting.
  2. Convenience apps for automating things.
  3. Apps for safety and savings, which includes a driver coaching tool for teens, for example.
  4. Apps for performance include a svelte graphical dashboard-cluster rendition, along with fuel usage analytics. You can customize that app for a dash-mounted iPad, for example.

IFTTT

One of the most interesting is IFTTT for the car, which automates routines across apps.

In the automotive environment here it can be used for switching the car on and off, clearing a check engine light, and triggering actions when you arrive or leave a location.

An example of a routine that could be run at a specific location would be shutting the garage door with smart-door controller Garageio.

You can also program your own routines.

API

An API is available too. The REST API includes distance, start and end times, route, and fuel economy. That data is coupled with corresponding user and vehicle metadata.

An Events API sends the developer's app real-time updates to events, like hard braking and speeding, for example.

A real-time streaming data feed is available in a private beta SDK.

The system 

OBD-II was designed for emissions monitoring. It derived from the 1960's and the days of murky Los Angeles smog.

Remarkably, it's this aging, almost forgotten 1980's-ratified standard, designed for something virtually completely unrelated, that is providing a lot of the connectivity and analytics needed for cars to belatedly enter the twenty-first century.

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