Digital car keys are here. Are we ready?

Digital car keys have become a reality, prompting the question: are we prepared for this technological leap? The progression from hand cranks to traditional keys, then key fobs, has now led to the advent of “digital car keys,” allowing users to lock, unlock, and start their cars using their smartphones.

However, the transition to digital car keys is not without its challenges. Various technologies such as Near-Field Communication (NFC), Ultra Wideband (UWB), and Bluetooth vie for prominence. Questions about security against hackers and the functionality when a phone’s battery is low need to be addressed, despite the assurance that the digital key will still operate in such situations.

While several automakers offer digital keys, the technology is not yet ubiquitous, limited to a few models. Achieving widespread adoption requires resolving issues related to technology standards and safety. To address these concerns, two industry consortiums—the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) and FiRa Consortium—have collaborated to establish a working group. The CCC, consisting of major car manufacturers and tech giants like Apple, Samsung, and Xiaomi, aims to create standards for digital keys. The FiRa Consortium, a nonprofit supporting Ultra Wideband, includes members such as Apple, Google, Cisco, Samsung, Qualcomm, and others.

Daniel Knobloch, vice president and board member at CCC, emphasizes the need for global standards to ensure seamless connectivity between smartphones and in-vehicle systems. He discusses the challenges in developing digital key technology that is both secure and compatible across diverse devices and vehicles. The interview underscores the importance of standardization to create a flexible and integrated ecosystem that works across different devices and platforms.

Knobloch draws parallels with other technology debates, highlighting the rarity of achieving consensus among device original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) on a single protocol. He acknowledges the challenges akin to debates around messaging protocols and draws parallels with the effort to establish standards for electric vehicle charging.

The overarching goal is to avoid technology fragmentation, which can lead to higher costs and inconvenience for consumers. The CCC envisions creating a lean and sustainable digital key ecosystem, respecting the diverse plans and visions of member companies while ensuring long-term viability.

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