Cars are the biggest piece of tech most of us own, but they're relatively conservative. Newer models may come with USB ports, Bluetooth, and touchscreens, but those have been elements for years. And the touchscreen experience isn't generally all that good, even with spiffy spoftware.
But significant enhancements are gradually working their way into our vehicles. A number of vehicles can detect when other cars are in their blind spots. Some can parallel park on their own. There are models in development that can drive limited distances without input from the driver. And, of course, there's Google's self-driving cars.
Then there is Volvo's idea to replace your key fob with your smartphone.
Instead of using a key to turn the ignition or verifying your presence inside a car using a fob, the vehicle will communicate with your phone over Bluetooth. A digital key tells the car that you're the owner.
The app gives you some added features over a physical key. You can send the digital key to family members or friends with compatible phones. People could potentially order rental vehicles and have keys arrive on their devices. They could then locate their rental car via GPS and hop in.
Volvo's existing On Call app already allows owners to check fuel, trip meters, and other dashboard information. Users can also lock doors, locate their vehicle on a map, and request roadside assistance.
Will you lose access to your vehicle when your phone dies? Yes. Volvo's director of new tech and services, Martin Rosenqvist, told the BBC, "If you lose your car key you need to go to a Volvo dealer - if you lose your phone you have to get a new phone. You can acquire a new app on a new phone."
So if you don't already have one, you might want to get a car charger. Volvo hopes to be the world's first car manufacturer to offer keyless cars when these models roll onto dealerships in 2017.
For decades, drivers have been accustomed to accessing and driving cars with physical keys. But no longer. In a ground-breaking move for the automotive industry, Volvo Cars plans to become the world’s first car manufacturer to offer cars without keys from 2017.
Volvo customers will be offered an application for their mobile phones to replace the physical key with a digital key. The innovative Bluetooth-enabled digital key technology, will offer Volvo customers far more flexibility, enabling them to benefit from entirely new ways to use and share cars.
The new Volvo app enables the digital key on the customer’s mobile phone to do everything a physical key currently does, such as locking or unlocking the doors or the trunk and allowing the engine to be started.
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.
Using the app people could potentially book and pay for a rental car anywhere in the world and have the digital car key delivered to their phone immediately. On arrival a customer could simply locate the rental car via GPS, unlock it and drive away, avoiding those frustrating queues at airport or train station car rental desks.
Volvo Cars’ digital key means that sharing a car will become both simple and convenient. Volvo owners will be able to send their digital key to other people via their mobile phones so that they can also use the car, this may be family members, friends or co-workers in a company.
“At Volvo we are not interested in technology for the sake of technology. New technology has to make our customers’ lives easier and save them time. Mobility needs are evolving and so are our customers’ expectation to access cars in an uncomplicated way,” said Henrik Green, Vice President Product Strategy & Vehicle Line Management at Volvo Cars. “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 whoever the owner wishes.”
Volvo will pilot this technology in spring 2016 via its car sharing firm Sunfleet, stationed at Gothenburg airport, Sweden. A limited number of commercially available cars will be equipped with the new digital key technology in 2017.
“There are obviously many permutations when it comes to how this shared key technology can be used,” added Martin Rosenqvist, New Car Director, Special Products at Volvo Cars. “We look forward to seeing how else this technology might be used in the future and we welcome any and all ideas.”
Volvo is a pioneer with new digital key solutions. In 2015 the Swedish premium carmaker launched the world’s first commercial offer to have online shopping delivered directly to the car, by providing a one-time digital key to a delivery company. Now the digital key technology will also be made available for customers.
Physical keys will continue to be offered for people who want them.
Volvo’s innovative keyless car technology will be shown for the first time at the Mobile World Congress 2016 (22-25 February) in Barcelona at the Ericsson booth.