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Automakers, smartphone companies prep digital car key solution

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Craig Johnson, Clark.com

Cars and smartphones are enjoying an increasingly fruitful courtship as technology’s constantly revving motor continues to make them both more convenient and integrated than ever.

As part of that synergy, a group of smartphone manufacturers and automakers have formed the Car Connectivity Consortium, which describes itself as “an organization driving global technologies for smartphone-centric car connectivity solutions.”

A digital car key — would you use it?

This week, the organization announced the latest big innovation smartphone-to-car connectivity, the Digital Key Release 1.0 specification. The group hopes this downloadable key can become the standardized way that smart devices can become the driving forces in future vehicles.

Here’s how a digital key would work: The driver would be able to download the Digital Key and, using an authorization code, be able to start and stop the engine, talk to other smart devices and even securely transfer the key to other people. As you can imagine, the key can also be updated to have even more functionality.

white paper posted on the consortium’s website shares the following two use-cases for the digital key:

  • This use case is also known as Passive Entry. The system will unlock/lock the vehicle door when the driver is in/out close proximity to the car without any user interaction with the smart device. From the user perspective the driver is “recognized” by the vehicle. The definition and accuracy of “close proximity” plus a number of localization and security aspects need to be defined for this use case.
  • A user far in range from the Digital Key owner can be granted temporary access via long range communication connections.

The consortium also hopes the Digital Key solves the issue of security, which continues to be a problem for drivers around the world.

Before you scoff, it’s good to know that some major automakers, including BMW, Hyundai and Volkswagen, have already signed on, according to tech site Engadget.com. Mobile companies Apple, LG and Samsung are on board and many more companies are interested.

The consortium says the digital key will work with existing wireless technologies like Bluetooth, Global Platform, NFC (near-field communication) and the protocols established by GSMA (Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association), the international mobile phone organization.

Don’t get rid of your car keys just yet, though. The consortium doesn’t have a date on when the Digital Key will be ready for the road. Until then, here’s how to solve one of the most common key-in-ignition problems.

Would you use the Digital Key with your vehicle when its available? Let us know in the comments.

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