Your car can talk to your smartphone. How, and why, to make it happen.

Dash, Automatic and Fuse apps help users save money and stay safe on the road

Realtors love their cars. One could say that the automobile is an essential tool to any real estate pro. In fact, most of the Realtors that I know and work with spend just as much time (if not more) driving to appointments and homes as they do in the actual home.

I recently wrote about Google's acquisition of Nest and noted that the home and auto industries are ripe for disruption and innovation. I am truly fascinated by the "Internet of Things" and the potential impact smart connected devices can have on our lives.

Driver using smartphone image via Shutterstock.
Driver using smartphone image via Shutterstock.

Thanks to Environmental Protection Agency regulations, every vehicle sold in the U.S. since 1996 includes an onboard diagnostic system that can be accessed using a data port. "OBD" systems help auto mechanics by self-diagnosing and reporting problems that can make the car's engine run less efficiently or shorten its life. But there are a bunch of new and exciting products hitting the market that leverage this technology for other purposes, turning your vehicle into a smart connected car.

How does it work?

You simply connect your phone to your car. A Bluetooth-enabled device is inserted into the vehicle's OBD data port, which is typically located under the steering wheel. The device is then paired with your smartphone via Bluetooth, enabling data to be synced. No mechanic is required, and the app does the rest.

What type of data will be reported to me?

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The mobile apps essentially act as a driving assistant and produce a ton of insightful data. For instance, a smart connected car can decipher the nebulous and dreaded check engine light, revealing detailed information about the issue and an estimate of the potential cost of repair, which is pretty cool.

The smart connected car can provide mileage information, mapping, parking details and even maintenance management."

There is other valuable data that can be helpful to Realtors as well. The smart connected car can provide mileage information, mapping, parking details and even maintenance management.

What's the value proposition?

The selling point for these connected apps is safety and savings. Fuel is the largest motor vehicle expense, and tapping into your OBD system can help you monitor your gas levels and report back the best time and place to refuel to take advantage of the best price.

The apps also include some form of crash reporting. So, if you are ever in an accident, the proper authorities are automatically contacted and GPS coordinates will be delivered.

There is a plethora of new products, startups and Kickstarter campaigns seeking funding to gain traction in this space. Many of these apps have similar features and configurations. It will be interesting to see how the companies differentiate themselves and try to separate from the pack.

I've looked at a bunch of these services, researching them and doing some due diligence. Here are three apps that are ready to transform the way you drive.

1. Dash

Features: Dash boasts three primary features: safety, savings and interestingly enough, social. Their brand is executed nicely on the Web, communicating simplicity and ease of use, which will be important with a product in this space.

The safety and savings elements are pretty standard; however, the social integration is pretty interesting. You can compare how you drive to your friends and unlock digital bumper stickers.

Unlike some of their competitors, Dash offers an API for developers. On its website, the company says, "Dash is building the 'Automotive Graph' -- an open platform for the road, enabling smarter driving for everyone. Dash has an API available for third party developers. We call it CHASSIS API."

Mobile Support: Dash currently supports Android, with iOS coming soon.

Price: I like the fact that Dash offers two Bluetooth-enabled devices. A generic one for $10 and a proprietary one $69.

You can learn more here.

2. Automatic

Features: Like Dash, Automatic is available now and sports a polished brand and elegant website. It has similar safety and cost-saving features. The app also records your parking location automatically, which can be retrieved later. A nice feature if you ever have lost your car in a mall parking garage or large stadium. The feature includes support for multiple drivers as well.

Trip Timeline is another feature Realtors will enjoy. As the company puts it on its the website, "The Automatic app displays detailed info about your week, like how much you drive and where. See the actual MPGs (miles per gallon) for all your trips, even for older cars that don't display fuel efficiency on the dashboard."

Mobile Support: Automatic works with iOS and is in beta for Android.

Price: $99.95

You can learn more here.

3. Fuse

Features: Fuse successfully funded its Kickstarter project on Nov. 15, raising almost $20,000 more than their goal. The platform is currently available for preorder and should be ready for shipping in March.

Fuse has an interesting carpool feature. On its website the company promises you'll be able to "start your carpool route with a simple tap and the people you're picking up get a text or phone call letting them know you're on your way. As you approach their house they get another text or phone call, letting them know you're about there. All the while you're focused on driving, not texting or calling."

Mobile: Fuse supports iOS and Android.

Price: If you preorder Fuse now, it's $40 off the list price -- $159 (regularly $199).

You can learn more here.

Tom Flanagan is the director of information technology at Residential Properties Ltd. in Providence, R.I. You can contact him at tflanagan@residentialproperties.com or @tflan on Twitter.


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