Automotive

Volvo to replace car keys with smartphone controls

Volvo to replace car keys with...
The Bluetooth signal from users' phones will automatically unlock their Volvo as they approach
The Bluetooth signal from users' phones will automatically unlock their Volvo as they approach
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The Bluetooth signal from users' phones will automatically unlock their Volvo as they approach
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The Bluetooth signal from users' phones will automatically unlock their Volvo as they approach
Users could lend their car to other people, by sending them digital keys
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Users could lend their car to other people, by sending them digital keys
The technology should begin showing up in some commercially-available cars starting next year
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The technology should begin showing up in some commercially-available cars starting next year
Checking out the Volvo app at the Mobile World Congress
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Checking out the Volvo app at the Mobile World Congress

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.

Users could lend their car to other people, by sending them digital keys
Users could lend their car to other people, by sending them digital keys

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.

Checking out the Volvo app at the Mobile World Congress
Checking out the Volvo app at the Mobile World Congress

12 comments
Michael Wilson
So a dead phone battery = unopened vehicle....Great
Wolf0579
People are losing their smartphones all the time. I wonder what plan "B" is...
Ronald Leard
Wow a push button start, just like my 1931 Chevy has. Disk brakes like a 1950 Chrysler had. With the switches in the right place, you can use a buggy whip, do all the functions. With no batteries to worry about. Whats next a backup starter crank.
Lbrewer42
I wonder how this will tie in now with the freedom-grabbing attempt of the present admin trying to force Apple to build a back door into their iPhones software so as to allow FBI access to private information - instead of just letting Apple retrieve the info they want for them? Accessing peoples' cars at will would be open for anyone able to use the backdoor (no pun).
habakak
This is fantastic. But there goes the Luddites again. The old 'lost phone' or 'dead phone' excuse. It's like the people who 100+ years ago said 'The problem with cars are that you could run out of gasoline. You can never run out of 'horse'.' Yeah, horses died too. And they got sick. And they got injured or stolen or ran away. In this case the phone is just another 'key'. No different from what you have now, and if anything, more convenient because 1 less thing (your car key) to worry about. It has different constraints, but obvious benefits. People have their phones with them 24/7. You only need your car keys when you drive. And you don't know how many people lose or forget their car keys because people are not so obsessed by it. Everyone has to post about losing their phone though. So more people could be losing car keys than phones.
Michael Wilson
Smart phone battery life tends to not be the best. When battery technology matches that of the current keys, talk to me. Also, upgrading your smartphone can be a problem, as people often replace their cars with less frequency than their keys. IE: I could see an out of date OS, a bricked phone or a dead phone meaning an unopened car. This would be a fabulous opt-in thing, whereby one can still maintain a regular transponder based key as a backup, but eliminating the key entirely for a smartphone based solution is foolish. Also, cue all the crackers and phreaks trying to hack into said system for fun and profit.
cemmerven
Could be better with a physical-key with a software-key alternative( phone or small dedicated USB/bluetooth device)
Mindbreaker
Great now they steal you phone and your car leaving you not only with no way home but also with no way to call anyone to pick you up. Maybe if you live in a low crime area? Maybe somewhere other than the US. And hackers, oh they would love to make their phone open your car, using a bit of malware. "But officer, I thought it was my car, my phone opened it."
sagebrush6
So, that means if I have a smart phone I can steal your Volvo. Nice! Here you are 175 miles from home in a motel with your mistress and some dickhead with a smart phone steals your Volvo. Wonderful.
Wolf0579
There should be a back up. I work large events, and there is always a few lost phones left behind. A bluetooth fob or fingerprint recognition system at least.