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Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 12:51 pm PT (03:51 pm ET)

Automatic Link uses iPhone to make regular cars smarter

Automatic Labs has announced a new device that uses Apple's iPhone to turn normal cars into smart devices that can save drivers time and money, and it's now available for pre-order.



The Automatic Link plugs into a car's on-board diagnostics (OBD) port, typically located under the left side of the dashboard near where the driver sits. The OBD port has been built into every car sold in the United States since 1996, and it allows for the extraction of information on a vehicle's speed, fuel level, and error reports. The Link monitors these and other indicators, providing information on how drivers can get around more safely and control their energy usage.

Speaking with AllThingsD, Automatic co-founder and CEO Thejo Kote touted the device's potential to engender smarter driving.

"Making small changes in driving behavior can lead to big savings in gas," Kote said. "We're trying to improve the car ownership experience without upgrading the car."

The Automatic Link activates every time a driver turns a car on or off, and it generates a trip report showing where a car went, what its fuel efficiency was on the trip, and what that equates to in gas costs. It also displays weekly trends and timelines that can be shared with other owners of the same model of vehicle.

As a driver continues to use the device, it generates a weekly driving score report, logging things such as rough braking, speeding, and rapid acceleration. Users can then alter their driving behaviors in order to improve fuel efficiency going forward.

Automatic Link also uses GPS information to gauge the price of filling a car's tank by cross-referencing nearby filling stations, gas prices, and the current gas tank level.

The system also monitors car health through the OBD port, using push notifications to explain, for instance, why a user's 'check engine' light may be illuminated. It also has a built-in Crash Alert system that uses an iPhone's data connection to immediately report crashes to 911 with the user's name, location, and vehicle description.

The Automatic Link is available for pre-order from Automatic's site. The device retails for $70, with no subscription fees. It is currently compatible with only the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 and begins shipping in May. Automatic says an Android-compatible version — compatible with selected models — will be shipping this fall.