Volvo Ditching Physical Car Keys for Smartphone App

February 19, 2016, 8:07 PM UTC
Volvo Cars digital key
Volvo Cars digital key
Courtesy of Volvo

Volvo will make vehicles without keys by 2017—a move that suggests the company is prepping its cars for sharing.

Instead of a physical key or even a smart fob, customers will be offered a smartphone app that will work like a digital key to lock and unlock doors or remote start the engine, according to Volvo Car Group. Customers won’t be forced to make the switch though.

Yes, it’s a cool new advance in technology. But based on Volvo’s announcement, company leadership has big plans for the smartphone app. From Volvo:

Volvo owners will be able to send their digital key to other people via their mobile phones so that they can also use the car, this may be family members, friends or co-workers in a company.

Another key line:

This new technology will also offer customers the possibility to receive more than one digital key on their app allowing them to access different Volvo cars in different locations—according to their changing mobility needs.

And one more:

Using the app people could potentially book and pay for a rental car anywhere in the world and have the digital car key delivered to their phone immediately. On arrival a customer could simply locate the rental car via GPS, unlock it and drive away, avoiding those frustrating queues at airport or train station car rental desks.

Other automakers haven’t ditched their smart key fobs or physical keys altogether. However, some have developed smartphone apps that can be used to remote start and unlock the car as well as other features that make it easier to car-share.

GM included several features in the newly-revealed Chevrolet Bolt EV that will allow for car-sharing. For instance, there’s a low-energy Bluetooth system that detects the driver’s smartphone as he or she approachs the car. The car is also equipped with a new app called MyChevrolet Mobile that lets the driver see the vehicle charge status, set the cabin temperature, and remotely start the car. Using the app, the driver could leave the keys locked inside the car and send someone an encrypted key so that person could use his or her own smartphone to unlock the car.

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Volvo, which was acquired by Zhejiang Geely Holding of China in 2010, is increasingly focused on connected car, advanced driver assistance system, and autonomous vehicle technologies, particularly those features that improve safety. For example, Volvo is making its semi-autonomous driving technology a standard feature in the S90, its new flagship sedan that it introduced in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The semi-autonomous feature lets the car steer, brake, and accelerate up to 80 mph on a street with proper lane markings. It also includes a collision avoidance system that can detect large animals like deer and elk.

In 2014, Volvo became one of the first automakers to announce plans to integrate the Apple’s automobile platform CarPlay into future models. The company, which was also developing its own in-vehicle Sensus Connect platform with a touchscreen, revealed last year that CarPlay would finally make it into its cars. Volvo’s Sensus Connect platform is part of an $11 billion, five-year investment into the company aimed at revamping its entire lineup by 2019. The system debuted on the 2016 Volvo XC90 crossover, and it will become standard in all new Volvo cars by the end of 2018.

Volvo XC90 is back and ready to play the luxury game

Next year, the company will make 100 self-driving Volvos available to consumers around Gothenburg, Sweden for use in everyday driving conditions as part of its Drive Me project. Volvo has developed an interface called IntelliSafe Auto Pilot that will be included in the 100 XC90 model cars that Volvo will make available for its Drive Me project.

The interface, which allows drivers to activate and deactivate autonomous mode through specially-designed paddles on the steering wheel, was developed to oversee how drivers will transfer control to a car’s autonomous driving mode in future cars.

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