Wireless Technology Moving Car Key into Trash Heap

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Wireless technologies are making the car key irrelevant. Key fobs got their start in the 1990s with coded chips to help reduce theft. In addition to starting the vehicle, wireless fobs enable drivers to unlock and lock their doors.

But look for the car fob to be overtaken by Bluetooth LE, near-field communications (NFC) and ultra-wideband, reports Forbes

For more than a decade, automakers have had systems that enable drivers to lock and unlock their vehicles from a smartphone app. The signal was sent over the cellular network to a modem in the car using a system like GM’s OnStar or the Hyundai Bluelink. But the process could take up to a minute.

More recently, automakers including Ford and Tesla have begun to deploy Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to allow drivers to access the car when the phone is nearby, but even these systems take a few seconds to work.  

Hyundai is offering cellular, BLE and NFC on the 2020 Sonata, according to Forbes. When you are away from the car and want to be sure it’s locked, the smartphone app uses a cellular connection. Within about 30 feet, the same app uses the BLE connection to lock or unlock the vehicle. As you approach the car, you can tap the phone on the door handle to unlock it without actually launching the app by taking advantage of NFC. 

NXP and Volkswagen recently said they’ll begin using ultra-wideband (UWB) technology to provide faster, more secure localization and access capabilities. A new VW model launching in 2019 will use a key fob with UWB, and NXP has just launched a new automotive grade UWB chip to support a variety of applications. Along with key functions, equipping a car with UWB can enable a range of new functions such as automated valet parking, automatic billing for EV charging or fuel fill, other drive through payments and even short range radar systems. 

Smartphones like the new iPhone 11 series coming to market with built-in UWB, can be used as more secure digital keys, according to the account. The Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) is developing digital key standards using UWB to enable interoperability between mobile devices and vehicles. Among the contributors to this effort are NXP, Continental, BMW and Apple.

It will still be several years, however, before the deployment of UWB digital keys on our smartphones and in our cars is widespread. For those who tried to use tap-and-pay with smartphones early on, there were frustrations with finding the right spot on the reader to tap, or getting it to register at all. Drivers could experience similar frustrations with UWB keys. However, if and when the CCC, phone manufacturers and automakers get the bugs worked out, it will hopefully be a better and more secure experience for gaining access to a car.  

November 14, 2019

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