Practical Automation

Last week, I went to start our older car and the battery was dead. This is about the 4th time this has happened in the last year, and it is entirely my fault. I left the lights on again.

I left the lights on because I tend to turn on the headlights whenever I am driving, day or night. Our new car, of course, has automatic headlights and I don’t have to think about it. The older car buzzes a warning if you shut down the car and the headlights are still on. Only, that warning buzzer is no longer working. It died about a year ago.

So, if my routine is slightly disrupted when I arrive home, as it was last week, then I forget to turn off the lights, and the next morning: dead battery. This, by the way, is why pilots—even experienced ones—always use checklists.

We called AAA and they came out and jumped the car and all is well. Except: it will happen again.

I thought about ways to prevent this. I could stick a Post-It on the steering wheel to remind me to SHUT THE LIGHTS. But, I might not look at the Post-It if I was dealing with getting the kids out of the car, along with backpacks, and everything else. What would be great is if that buzzer was still working. I wondered if there was some other way.

Then it occurred to me!

I was an early adopter of the Automatic Link. This is a device that plugs into the data port on your car and acts as a kind of Fitbit for your vehicle. I have one in each of the cars and the data it provides can be fascinating and useful. I only drive the older car to-and-from work (the car probably gets less than 1,500 miles/year), and I often forget that the Automatic Link is in the car. But I had brilliant idea.

One of the features of the Automatic Link is that it integrates with the IFTTT (If This Then That) service. One of the triggers is “when the ignition is turned off.” So, I setup an IFTTT applet that does the follows:

IF my Automatic Link detects the ignition is turned off, THEN sent me an SMS telling me to make sure the lights are turned off.

And guess what? It worked! There  is sometimes a delay of 10 or 15 minutes, but ever since I enabled that little piece of workflow, within aa few minutes of shutting down the car, I get a text message that reads “Honda CR-V’s ignition turned off. CHECK LIGHTS!”

Usually, I shut the lights off, but now, if I forget, I’ll have a reminder within few minutes to check. Hopefully this will forestall future dead batteries.

This, by the way, is an example of what I like to call practical auto-mation.