Nobody Wanted to Follow My Tweeting Car Anyway

SWAN of the Week, Number 151
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Happy Friday!

Would you follow a car tweeting by itself on Twitter? Didn’t think so. In fact, I know so.

Back in 2014 I started using an app called Automatic to explore the possibilities of a “smart” dumb car: “My Car is Tweeting Trips and MPG, Texting My Wife By Itself.”

Automatic was a mobile app combined with a white square that plugs into your car’s data port (you know, where your mechanic plugs in the check engine light machine that somehow costs $100 just for turning it on). It had IFTTT integration, so of course I hooked it to a Twitter account to tweet every trip — @WhereIsGregsCar, which to-date has 32 followers! What’s wrong with you people?

I also had it dump every trip into a spreadsheet for tax purposes, built a GPS fence to automatically text my wife when I left work for home each night, turn on lights when I got home, and it allowed me to track things like 2019 stats (taken from The SWAN 100):

  • Miles Driven in @WhereIsGregsCar: 12,575
  • MPG Average in @WhereisGregsCar: 40.6
  • Hours Spent Commuting in @WhereIsGregsCar: 373

This got the attention of the Automatic folks and they put me in an Alpha program. Since then, I’ve bought three more Automatics, helped them fix some IFTTT integration bugs, outfitted my wife’s car, and overall just really enjoyed having access to data and Internet of Things functionality you just can’t get from the standard automaker software.

Unfortunately, Automatic is suddenly closing at the end of May citing issues related to the COVID-19 crisis. I tweeted at them asking if they would release the code and open up the hardware to developers, but they promptly deleted their Twitter account and have gone radio silent. And all of this is despite being owned by SiriusXM, which managed to beat its Q1 earnings this week in spite of the global pandemic.

Alas, here are some key lessons from my car tweeting by itself for 6 years:

  • Data = Empowerment. Knowing your personal driving habits about speeding, heavy braking, and time of day is way more effective and constructive than roadside signs or your insurance company possibly rewarding you for better driving.
  • Factory Auto Software Sucks More Than Ever: The worst part about highly advanced computers in our vehicles is the trouble of updating them and the fact that older model years are rarely supported. Even my 2019 Jeep with CarPlay lacks the functionality to connect to Internet of Things recipes and do modern things.
  • Aftermarket Innovation Wins: One of my CES 2020 takeaways was around aftermarket innovation – that making your daily life “smarter” no longer requires a huge investment or buying new appliances or vehicles every few years. I would put Amazon Echo Auto in this same category.
  • Nobody Wants to Follow a Tweeting Car: Even though you can have your car tweet every single trip you take, should you? No.

I’m in the market for a new plug-in to get my car tweeting again and am open to your recommendations. I know the 32 of you following it absolutely cannot wait.

See you on the internet!


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