If you buy a new car in the next few years, you may find yourself missing something important: the keys. The 2017 Volvo S90, nearing production, is incorporating new technology to make the owner's smartphone their primary car key. Volvo has even said that they’d eventually like to eliminate car keys entirely, replacing them with more high-tech keyless entry systems like this one. This is likely the first step in a long line of alternative access technologies based on your smartphone. At this point, one has to wonder... is there anything your smartphone can’t do?
How does it work?
The innovative “Phone as Key” technology works by basically turning your smartphone into a key fob through the use of Bluetooth and a special app developed by Volvo. This app will let you lock, unlock, and start your car. If you own two Volvos equipped with this technology, you will be able to use a unique digital code for each of them. This means that you can access either car at any time using the same app, according to your needs. You will even be able to send someone else a temporary digital key if you want to grant a friend or family member permission to take your cool new car for a spin.
A few automakers have already developed apps that let you lock and unlock your car using bluetooth. However, these still require you to have a physical key or key fob on your person for it to work, rather than being able to simply use your phone if your key happens to be lost in the couch cushions, a forgotten trouser pocket, or even the refrigerator. With Volvo’s new version, as long as you’ve got your phone, you will never lose your keys again.
What does it mean?
Not only does this provide a sophisticated and convenient solution for forgetful car owners, but it could open up a whole new era for car rental services. Using this technology, consumers could book and pay for a car rental in advance from anywhere with internet access, locate the car with GPS, and receive the digital key once they get to their destination, all wirelessly. That’s a surefire way to avoid those long lines at the airport car rental kiosk.
It can also be good news for car rental’s authority-bucking little brother, car sharing. The applications range from casual to professional, with the owner being able to control who has access to his or her vehicle during the day. On the casual side, this feature can be used to let a friend use your car to run some errands while you’re at work. Professionally, you could use sites like Getaround or Turo to put your car to work earning a little cash, rather than sitting in a parking lot all day. These sites allow people in your neighborhood to rent your car for a certain number of hours for their own personal use, and then return it where they picked it up. It’s a great option for car owners who want to subsidize their costs a bit, and also for smart travellers looking for a cheaper option than traditional car rental. Smartphone digital access makes car sharing a breeze by allowing you to authorize a renter’s car without needing to be present to hand over the keys.
“At Volvo, we are not interested in technology for the sake of technology,” explains Henrik Green, Volvo Vice President of Product Strategy & Vehicle Line Management. “New technology has to make our customers’ lives easier and save them time. Mobility needs are evolving and so are our customers’ expectations to access cars in an uncomplicated way. Our innovative digital key technology has the potential to completely change how a Volvo can be accessed and shared. Instead of sitting idle in a parking lot the entire day, cars could be used more often and efficiently by whomever the owner wishes.”
As with any new technology, this transition is not likely to go without a few hiccups. Since there will always be some who resist change, Volvo will continue to issue physical keys to any customers who request them. Personally, I have a few major concerns that will need to be addressed before I hand over my keys. Volvo will need to answer questions regarding what protections your car will have if your phone is lost or stolen, how it will handle hacking attempts and malware, and most importantly, what will happen to your car if your phone dies while you’re driving? Will we have to endure Siri judging our driving habits? No doubt Volvo innovators will find the answers to all these questions before the technology’s official unveiling in 2017, but until then, we’ll be holding on to our key rings.