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From Insight To Opportunity

How a grad school “ah-ha” moment led to the invention of Automatic, a smart driving assistant.

Cofounder Jerry Jariyasunant’s research on transportation habits got CEO Thejo Kote thinking. Almost everyone he knew had a smartphone and almost all cars in the U.S. carry powerful onboard computers. Yet, the two weren’t talking—Opportunity Identified.

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I’m a big believer in technology’s power to improve lives. Automatic helps do that by improving the experience of owning the cars we spend a large part of our lives in. Automatic was not hatched at a kitchen table out of a desire to start a company. It was inspired by what my cofounder, Jerry Jariyasunant, and I learned about car ownership during the research we were conducting in grad school at the University of California, Berkeley.

I met Jerry while studying human computer interaction and found his research very interesting. He’d started a project to study how people move and travel and make choices about transportation. When do people choose to walk, ride a bike, take a train, or drive? We wanted to know if there was an opportunity to influence transportation behavior by providing feedback about the impact of their choices.

We found that cars, which, in a way, are also large mobile computers, are often people’s second largest expense after their mortgage. This was also around the time I bought my first car in the U.S. It was shocking to me how much insurance cost. The first year, I paid more than what I made in a month as a grad student. This really made me interested in car-related challenges.

As we learned more about car ownership and the automotive industry, we realized there was an opportunity to create a product that delivered a much better car owner experience. We also realized there was a way to connect the car’s computer to smartphones and the Internet. We brought on Dave Palmer, Ram Jayaraman, and Ljuba Miljkovic and we started building what is now Automatic.

In the early days, we started to ask the question of how we could provide people with more insight about their driving and realized that there were no products available to drivers that put design and user experience at the forefront. Our cars aren’t known for having amazing technology. It’s one area of our lives that’s a bit left behind when it comes to great technology and design-driven experiences. We saw that there was a clear opportunity to address that need.

We looked at fundamental problems around how to improve safety and efficiency, and our product today solves a bunch of them in a simple, easy-to-use, seamless experience. For improved safety, Automatic detects crashes and helps make emergency calls, helps you maintain your car by interpreting the check engine light, and even remembers where you parked. For improved efficiency, Automatic provides subtle audio cues while driving and mobile and online information after each trip to help drivers understand their driving habits and make small changes that can have a big impact on fuel costs. Automatic upgrades your car and driving experience by connecting your previously disconnected car computer to your smartphone and the Internet.

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There are 250 million cars just in the U.S. It’s a 3 trillion-dollar market–the biggest market filled with computers (in your car) that, ironically, aren’t connected. Automatic’s opportunity is to improve car ownership for everyone, and we plan to play a leading role.

Photo Credit: LAUNCH Media, LLC.

Thejo Kote is the CEO and cofounder of Automatic Labs, a technology company that turns almost any car into a connected car. In 2009, Thejo started NextDrop as a way to help people in India and utility companies track the availability of piped water. Prior to NextDrop, Thejo worked as a senior engineer at NetCore Solutions, a provider of affordable digital marketing solutions for emerging economies, where he created new products and managed large- scale mobile applications. He holds a master’s degree in information management and systems from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering from Visvesvaraya Technological University.

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