Volvo to replace car keys with smartphone controls

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The Bluetooth signal from users' phones will automatically unlock their Volvo as they approach(Credit: Volvo)

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Already, drivers of cars with engine-start push buttons require nothing more than a Bluetooth key fob – no actual key is required. Volvo, however, is taking things a step farther. Beginning this spring (Northern Hemisphere), some Volvo drivers will need nothing more than their smartphone to use their car.

The new Volvo app reportedly allows drivers to do all the same things as a traditional key, such as unlocking the doors and starting the engine. In fact, drivers don't even need to operate their smartphone to unlock their car, as the distinct Bluetooth signal from their phone will do so automatically as they approach the vehicle.

Additionally, one phone can contain "digital keys" to multiple Volvos. This means that one person could access numerous cars in a fleet, for instance, or they could more easily pick up a rental Volvo to which they had already been sent a key – that digital key would expire after the rental period was over.

As is already the case with various electronic bike locks, users could also lend their car to other people, by sending them digital keys. Those keys can be designated for a single use or for use only at given times, if required.

The technology will be trialled this spring at Volvo's Sunfleet car-sharing service, located at Gothenburg airport. It should subsequently begin showing up in some commercially-available cars starting next year – physical keys will still also be offered for those vehicles.

Source: Volvo

UPDATE (Feb. 23/16): We were able to see the new system in person at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. A Volvo rep walked us through the new app – adding cars (like one-off rentals) and sharing access with friends worked almost instantly, while pairing with a new car took about as long as Bluetooth pairing normally does (a few seconds).

Once a car is added and stored, getting into your vehicle and driving off works just as it does with existing keyless fobs. Provided your phone is in your pocket (even locked and on standby), you can open your car door, climb in and drive off without a second thought.

It's one less thing to forget in the mornings.

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