Driving Device Can Save Integrators Thousands?

By Brian Rhodes, Published Feb 10, 2014, 12:00am EST

You might have great employees in your security company, but they could be better drivers. A new device boasts it will save thousands by telling you how to do it right. Furthermore, it claims to be an easy plugin fit for most fleet vehicles.

Not only will Automatic make all that windshield time more affordable, it is inexpensive itself: less than a full tank of gas to buy, and no monthly fees.  But for all of it's claims, how useful is it? We take a look in this note.

How It Works

The Automatic 'driving accessory' is a small sensor that plugs into your vehicle's OBD II port.  The device gathers information about your vehicle as it is being driven, including rapid acceleration, speed of travel, and even rough braking. That information is sent to you smartphone, where the company's app takes the raw data and matches it to GPS information collected by the phone. The end result: the app will 'coach' you to drive within more efficient parameters and help you plan trips to maximize gas and minimize wear. 

For many security companies, the cost of operating service fleet vans or sales vehicles is a big operation expense. Automatic claims it will help each driver in your fleet be a low-cost operator by giving them feedback on how well their car is running and being driven. The company's promotion video below gives an overview:

Key Values

Driving Coach: Being careless with your car is costly. Whether it is slamming on the brakes, stomping on the gas, or just planning your routes inefficiently, the app reflects the driver's net decisions as a weekly 'score'.  Meet or exceed that score for a year, and you have saved hundred, maybe even thousands, of operating dollars. The plug chirps to notify the driver when the vehicle falls outside the efficient parameters.

Reporting: The app also logs the data it collects, so exact travel distances and routes can be recalled later. Actual job mileage expenses can be billed to 1/10th of a mile, and the driver can 'prove' when unforeseen events like traffic or vehicle trouble impacted service times.

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Diagnostics: If the 'engine service' light comes on, the device notifies the phone immediately. The app is also able to interpret the trouble code, so the driver knows how serious the issue really is; there is no delaying a job for something minor like a bad O2 sensor, but if oil pressure drops immediate action can be taken to prevent costly repairs.

Crash Notification: The app also will dial out when the vehicle is involved in a crash.  Based on feedback from the sensor and location of the unit, local emergency services will be automatically called for help.

Parking Reminder: The app also incorporates a 'push pin' feature that marks the exact location you leave the service van on a sprawling jobsite, or sales car in a crowded garage.

Price

Automatic costs $100 [link no longer available], which buys you a plug to fit your vehicle and matches the type of smartphone running the app. There is no monthly subscription required, because the plug and the phone communicate directly via Bluetooth with no need to incorporate cloud servers to crunch data.

Not a Management Tool

Automatic is not a fleet management or tracking tool. It is a 'driving coach' that is only beneficial to willing drivers, and is not useful to operations in real-time at all. Managers who want to 'peek in' and see when/where/how their service vehicles are running will not have the need met by Automatic:

  • No Location Overview: While GPS data is used, it remains private to the driver and is not displayed on a management login. 
  • No Alarms: Unlike tracking platforms that automatically notify home base when the vehicle is stopped for too long or is driving outside a 'normal' region, Automatic will not alert based on driving behavior or route deviations.
  • Opt-In: The driver must be willing to use Automatic for it to be effective. If the user simply ignores the 'coaching advice', it will have no effect on how well or poorly the driver operates the vehicle.

Smartphone Required

The system is only useful when the driver carries a smartphone. If your service techs or sales people do not have iPhone or Android devices [link no longer available], the plug has no app to download to, nor can information be stored and downloaded for analysis later.

Real World Impact

When it comes to the bottom line, using Automatic will save the most money for those security companies who drive the most miles. While good habits benefit even occasional drivers, companies outside dense urban environments will benefit most. The company blog claims that drivers averaging 70 mph spend $50 more per 1000 miles in gasoline than those averaging 55 mph:

Aside from gas costs, the wear on tires, brakes, and the drivetrain is lessened when easing into starts and stops - points Automatic coaches on. 

From our experience in semi rural service territories, a single service van can average 250 - 300 miles per day, which means the device can save ~$50 per week in fuel per van. Given fleets of multiple vans, companies can save thousands of dollars each month just by driving more economically.

Drawbacks

Any potential user of Automatic must evaluate whether saving money on gas is worth extending the 'unproductive' time of driving. Following the coached advice will indeed slow drive times down, and the tradeoff is less billable/productive time for technicians or salesmen. 

The design of the plug may be a factor too.  The plug itself is where the chirping reminders are sounded, and the location of this plug coupled with the road noise inside the vehicle may result missed alarms.

 

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