Category: Automatic

Going Paperless: Automatically Tracking Business Mileage with an Automatic Link, IFTTT, and Evernote

I‘ve promised to try to provide one advanced automation tip each month, and it’s that time again. Fortunately, this month’s automation tip is practical, and requires no programming whatsoever.

What problem I am trying to solve

Although I’m pretty good at capturing a lot of information, the one area that I have been particularly poor in is in tracking mileage driven for business purposes. Usually, I just plain forget to do it. As my freelance and speaking work increases, however, I need to be capturing this more for tax purposes. But I also hate doing anything manually that can otherwise be automated. So, how to solve this problem?

Back in December, I bought an Automatic Link from Automatic. The Automatic Link is like FitBit for your car. You plug it into your car’s data port (the same port that a mechanic uses to figure out what’s wrong with your car) and it sync’s to your mobile device and gives you all kinds of information about your driving. If you like data, it’s a pretty cool little device. It can also tell you what’s wrong with your car when the Check Engine light comes on. And it remembers where you parked, so you don’t have to.

Recently, Automatic integrated with IFTTT to provide a bunch triggers upon which automation workflow could be captured. Initially, I created an IFTTT recipe that automatically captures information about each trip in a Google Spreadsheet. It then occurred to me that I could do something similar, automatically capturing trip information in Evernote, which in turn would allow me to automatically track my business trips, tag them, and have them readily accessible for my accountant come tax time.

Ingredients for this automation

My IFTTT recipes to automate collection of driving data

I have created two IFTTT recipes for my Automatic Link. The first recipe just grabs the data after each trips and sends it to a Google Spreadsheet so that I have all of the raw data in one place. Here is that recipe:

IFTTT Recipe: Export Automatic Trip Data to aGoogle Spreadsheet connects automatic to google-drive

For the purposes of collecting mileage for business related trips, I created an IFTTT recipe that sends trip information to a new note in Evernote. The note is created within 15 minutes of the completion of a trip, and it contains a ton of information including the mileage, maps of the start and end points, start time, end time, fuel consumed, and much more. These notes go into my Inbox notebook so I can review them each day. They are tagged “mileage” so that there are easy to find and collect together. Here is the shared recipe in IFTTT:

IFTTT Recipe: Track all business trips in Evernote. connects automatic to evernote

Integrating this into my daily review

Each evening, usually after I finish my writing for the day, I pull up a saved search for my “daily review” which allows me to look at all of my Evernote activity for the day. It gives me an opportunity to review my day and also tag or file any notes that have not yet been categorized.

One step I’ve added to this review is to look for trip notes created from my Automatic Link and IFTTT. It is easy to spot these with my daily review by searching for the tag “mileage” but usually I don’t even have to do that. I rarely have more than a dozen new notes on any given day.  In my daily review, I am looking for those trips that are business trips. When I find them, I add a “taxes” tag to the note so that they will be part of my tax search come tax time. I can also add more information to the note, like the purpose of the trip, just by appending to what is already there.

Read more

Initial Thoughts on the Automatic Link Smart Driving Assistant

A while back, a friend of mine, knowing my penchant for personal analytics, call my attention to a new device being manufactured by Automatic called the Automatic Link. This device captures data about your driving the way a FitBit device captures data about your activity. At the time, it was not available, but it eventually became available, and a few weeks ago, I got my hands on one. I had it just in time for our trip down to Florida, which is where I really put it to use.

The device is designed to plug into the data port on your car that mechanics use to determine problems when the “check engine” light is on. Automatic says that it works with most cars manufactured since 1996. Once plugged in, the device syncs up via BlueTooth 4 to your iPhone and provides all kinds of data about your driving. It captures this data in real-time by communicating with your car’s computer1.

Automatic Link in my Kia
Automatic Link plugged into our Kia

There is an initial setup that syncs the device to your phone. After that, no action is required to track your driving. If the app is running on your iPhone, it automatically detects when the ignition starts and stops, and tracks everything for you. The primary goal of the Automatic Link seems to be saving your money by making you a more fuel efficient driver. Because of this, the device tracks three things that makes you less fuel efficient:

  1. Fast accelerations
  2. Hard braking
  3. Speeds over 70 MPH

You can set an audible alert for each of these so that the device notifies you when any of these things occur in real time. Since I started using the device, I have been dinged for all three, and I can attest that, at least in my car, the alerts are accurate.

The device also tracks your route and mileage and can compute how much your are spending in gasoline costs by being aware of local gas prices. Here is what the first leg of our drive down to Florida looks like in the Automatic Link app on my iPhone:

1st Leg

The device captured our departure time (9:03 am) and where we were departing from (“Home”). It recorded 121.2 miles before engine shutdown a little over 2 hours later. You can see from the section I circled about that I had 1 hard brake, 1 hard acceleration, and spent 37 minutes over 70 MPH. This latter was on I-95 where the speed limit is 70 and I had the cruise control set to 72 MPH. It calculated the cost of gas for that leg at $14.47.

You can click on a trip to get additional details, including a map of the route taken:

1st Leg Map

Here you can see the actual route. I annotated the screen capture with arrows that show exactly where the hard acceleration happened, and where I was driving over 70 MPH. Another cool feature is that you can see your fuel efficiency (circled above). In the case of this first leg, our Kia Sorento got 29 mpg.

Our longest single leg of driving on our way down to Florida looked liked this:

Read more

  1. Indeed, it reminds me of that scene in Empire Strikes Back when Han Solo asks C3PO to talk to the computer of the Millennium Falcoln in order to find out what’s wrong with the hyperdrive.

New Toy for a Data Hound

I got a new toy today, the perfect thing for a data hound like me. It is the Automatic device, which is probably best described as a “FitBit for cars” type of device. The Automatic website describes the device as, “Your smart driving assistant.” And it comes just in time for our drive down to Florida next weekend.


The device plugs into the standard OBD-II data port on your car (it is compatible with most cars made after 1996) and syncs via BlueTooth 4.0 with the Automatic app on your iPhone. It does four main things:

  1. Provides real-time driving feedback on things like rough braking, speeding, and rapid acceleration, all of which contribute to lower fuel efficiency. It calculate a driving score for you and tells you how much money you save on gas based on how you drive.
  2. It creates trip timelines for you with all kinds of information about your driving habits, where, and how much you drive. It can detect when the car should be filled up and knows about local gas prices so that you can save money at the pump.
  3. It remembers where you park your car.
  4. It knows all of the codes for the “Check Engine” light, should it come on.

The device can also contact emergency services if the car is in a serious crash. (It has a built-in accelerometer.)

Of course, for me, this is just another source of automatically collected data for personal analytics that I can add to my FitBit activity data, writing data, and other data that I collect. I’ll see how it works on our vacation and you can bet I’ll be posting more about it.