Toyota has unveiled a new device aimed at allowing anyone to share their car. The Smart Key Box (SKB) can be installed in a vehicle so as to provide access to people via their smartphones.
The SKB replaces the need to exchange vehicle smart keys, therefore eliminating the chance of them being lost or stolen. It is designed to provide a more secure way of lending or renting out a vehicle and can be used to lock and unlock the doors of a vehicle, as well as to start its engine.
Toyota says vehicles need not be modified for the SKB to be installed, though details on installation, setup and operation are somewhat lacking at the moment. The company does reveal that once the device is set up, a digital key can be sent to an app on an authorized user's smartphone. When the user approaches the vehicle, the SKB will connect to their device via Bluetooth Low Energy and will recognize the digital key, subsequently providing access.
The dates and times at which a digital key can be used can be restricted to booking arrangements managed by the Toyota Smart Center (TSC), the carmaker's cloud-based computing system that was conceived to connect people, vehicles and communities, such as, in this case, car-sharing services.
The SKB is the first offering of Toyota's new "Mobility Services Platform" (MSPF), which it intends to use for collaborations with mobility service providers and telematics insurance. The MSPF pulls together a number of Toyota's recently developed business functions, like vehicle management systems and leasing programs, which can subsequently be used by partners to support their own service offerings.
Toyota plans to explore the benefits and convenience of its SKB in a pilot with US car-sharing company Getaround. The pilot is scheduled to begin in January next year.
Update Nov 1: Toyota has sent us a little more information on the SKB. The SKB currently works with all Lexus vehicles and the Toyota Prius. Toyota tells New Atlas that the Prius was prioritized because of its popularity with car sharing programs and that other Toyota vehicles may be added in future. In order for a vehicle to work with the SKB, it must have an electronic key. The SKB replaces the key and communicates wirelessly, so does not need to be hardwired to the ignition.
Update Nov 3: A little more information has filtered through from Toyota. The SKB's battery can be charged via USB in the user's car or elsewhere and, once charged, the device can run wirelessly. There's no word yet on pricing or when the first MSPF provider integrations will be rolled out publicly.