When we founded Automatic, it wasn’t immediately obvious that we should build our own hardware. Adapters that plug into your car’s diagnostic port had been around for a long time, and we thought we might build an app that works with one of them.
We investigated the options and did thorough tear-downs of every OBD adapter we could find, but quickly realized that none were powerful, flexible, or secure enough to support the experiences we wanted to create for our users. Though it wouldn’t be easy, we decided to commit our small team to building our own hardware – with all the necessary R&D, design, and manufacturing costs that would entail. We needed a product that was worlds better than anything else out there.
Early design explorations of the Link. We pursued dozens of variations before settling on the final form.
Our vision is of a world where your car is as connected as your phone, where it’s as easy to create a new automotive experience as it is to create a mobile app. Since our hardware would be the foundation of this connected car platform, it had to support all of the use cases we had in mind. Existing adapters just didn’t measure up, and often made huge sacrifices on manufacturing quality.
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, he quoted the computer programming pioneer Alan Kay: “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” For us, it’s because we’re so serious about great software experiences that we had to make our own hardware. With this in mind, we began work on a product that could support our vision. And thus, the Link was born.
Me (left) and our industrial designer (right) reviewing early 3D prototypes of the Link.
So called because of its role linking your car and phone together, the Link is truly a unique piece of hardware. Here are some of the features we’re most proud of.
The software that runs on the Link can be updated automatically for free, over the air. This means that over time, we can push updates to improve its performance and even add new features, like we did with the integration with Ford vehicles to detect when a driver presses the SYNC steering wheel button.
The data in your car’s onboard computer is sensitive, which is why we protect transmissions to and from the Link with bank-level encryption much more powerful than standard Bluetooth encryption. Almost none of the OBD adapters on the market do this, leaving them open to malicious attacks.
Compact and beautiful
We took great care to design a product you’d be proud to have in your car. The precision enclosure is made of polished high-quality polymers and the hexagonal Automatic logo is stamped from pure aluminum.
No subscription fees
The Link uses Bluetooth wireless to piggyback on your phone’s data service, which saves us from having to build a cellular connection into the Link and charging a subscription fee. On iPhone, the Link uses the latest Bluetooth 4.0 wireless standard to send data even when the Automatic app isn’t open, all with minimal impact on your phone’s battery. On Android, the Link switches seamlessly to classic Bluetooth, which is more widespread on that platform.
One of our most important features, Crash Alert, wouldn’t have been possible without the Link’s unique accelerometer, which measures sudden decelerations a thousand times per second. The Link uses a sophisticated signal processing algorithm to analyze this data to detect a serious crash so Automatic can call for help.
Finally, the Link is the only OBD adapter with audio capabilities, which is essential for giving you real-time feedback about your driving habits and alerting you that help is on the way in the event of a crash. This speaker could find other uses in the future as well.
I could go on about what else makes the Link special, from the custom manufacturing process and tooling to the ethical labor practices at our factory, but I’ll save it for another post. We’re very proud of the Link and believe it’s a terrific foundation for the automotive experiences we’re creating. We can’t wait to show you what’s next.