Share keys with a click
Another major advantage of having an app on your smartphone is the ability to share it with friends and family as required. Along with being able to set parameters on the secondary keys to limit most aspects of the vehicle, be that top speed or audio volume - just wait for the kids to complain the stereo is broken the first time they try to bounce the speakers out of the brackets.
The technology has also been embraced by car rental companies, who find it more convenient and quicker to manage customers and staff via an app than it is to have to deal with multiple sets of keys. From the customers’ point of view, an app will likely cease the need to physically front up at the counter just to collect a set of keys.
If your car doesn’t have a factory-supplied app, it is still possible to use a smartphone for some of the more regular functions. Aftermarket products work by fitting an adaptor to the vehicle’s OBD2 port, which is the onboard diagnostic fitting service technicians use to read error codes from the vehicle’s computer. Supplied software then virtually couples the adaptor to the phone, typically letting owners lock and start the car.
As Tesla owners recently discovered, no technology is bullet-proof. About 500 users reported they couldn’t use their app to access their vehicles, according to outage monitoring website Downdetector.
While Tesla hadn’t given a detailed explanation for the five-hour outage, Musk tweeted: “Should be coming back online now. Looks like we may have accidentally increased the verbosity of network traffic. Apologies, we will take measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
The tech behind the tech
Digital keys operate on a standardized set of protocols devised by the Car Connectivity Consortium, which represents most car manufacturers, including Audi, BMW, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, and the Volkswagen Group.
The first protocols were released in 2018
The most recent version was launched in July and uses ultra-wideband radio technology to detect when a paired phone is within range. Bluetooth Low Energy then authenticates the digital key and unlocks the car.
Previous versions used Near Field Communication - the same technology you use when scanning your smartphone to make a payment - and this release also provide backward compatibility with that system.
The technology isn’t restricted to use in cars: smart locks for the home have been around for almost a decade and operate on the same smartphone-based principle.
It seems only a matter of time before we say goodbye to our sets of keys.