Friday, February 19, 2016

There’s an App For That: Volvo to Begin Selling Cars Without Physical Keys in 2017

Volvo digital key

In the past 25 or so years, the automotive key has undergone big changes, from security updates such as transponders to convenience updates like proximity keys that needn’t exit your pocket in order to unlock or start a car. The next Big Thing in keys is to do away with them entirely, a process that’s been well underway for a few years now as automakers enable their internet-connected vehicles to be remotely locked or unlocked and even started via smartphone apps. And yet such phone-based conveniences have always been augmented by a physical key, something Volvo plans to do away with starting in 2017.

Volvo digital key

We’d call Volvo’s move next-level stuff, only it really isn’t. The “breakthrough” is merely that Volvo plans to give customers the option to skip the physical key—not any new technology that allows customers to skip the key in the first place. As we mentioned, that technology already exists, although Volvo’s setup uses Bluetooth to communicate between car and phone, rather than a mobile data connection, limiting the key’s use to short range—just like a regular key! The automaker adds: “This new technology will also offer customers the possibility to receive more than one digital key on their app allowing them to access different Volvo cars in different locations—according to their changing mobility needs.” Volvo seems to be thinking ahead to a future where most vehicles use some form of app-based key systems, a prescient if slightly optimistic view, given how it also assumes a standardized digital key protocol that works across brands. Within a tighter scope, however, Volvo might be on to something. The company’s app key can be sent to “other people via their mobile phones so that they can also use the car,” thus simplifying car sharing.

Before Volvo offers keyless cars to its customers, it will evaluate the technology this year in a car-sharing fleet in Sweden. Even when the option arrives, it will be available in a “limited number” of cars. Otherwise, Volvo says, “physical keys will continue to be offered for people who want them.” The key announcement is merely the latest in a barrage of tech developments at Volvo, which seems to be positioning itself as tech-savvy and adaptable to future trends, having already dabbled in streaming video to autonomous cars, smartwatch-based remote voice controls for vehicles, and taking bold steps to get ahead of autonomous tech philosophically.

from Car and Driver Blog

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