Lost Your Car Keys? There’s an App for That.

This winter I’ll be taking a trip to Colorado. I remember the first time I made this journey. My flight landed late at night and by the time I got to the car rental facility it had begun to snow, hard. After picking up the key to the car, I couldn’t find an attendant to show me where my vehicle was parked. I walked in circles for what seemed like an eternity until I finally spotted the numbered parking slot with my car, only to discover the key didn’t fit.

On that January night, what I really needed was to find the correct car quickly without requiring assistance and without having to worry about keys. Enter Germany-based Continental AG. Continental—one of the top five automotive suppliers in the world—has designed a virtual car key that’s controlled from your cell phone device.

The virtual cell phone car key is in fact a data packet stored in encrypted format on your cell phone’s SIM card. The actual access authorization is checked and exchanged between cell phone and vehicle via a wireless interface (Near Field Communication – NFC). A transmitter in your phone talks to a NFC reader in the vehicle, and a receiver in the dashboard verifies the digital key in the cell phone when the car is started.

This has obvious benefits for car rentals. A customer can select a vehicle online and the digital key from Continental and the drivers profile is loaded onto the cell phone’s SIM card via a secure data link. At the same time, the cell phone receives the license plate number and the location of the car.

This technology also makes car sharing easier. Car sharing—popular in Europe and catching on in the United States—offers a way to cut back on traffic congestion and pollution.

Massachusetts-based Zipcar already offers a smartphone app which allows you to quickly find and reserve a Zipcar, scan a Zipcard and then tap the key fob in the app to unlock the car doors.

With Continental’s cell phone device you can program in your every driving need. Individual settings for favorite radio stations, popular navigation destinations or preferred internet applications are connected with the key. And, for folks like me who can never remember where they parked their car, Continental has included an app which will record the location of your parked car automatically.

From smart homes to smart cars, today’s innovation often revolves around the consumer electronics industry. Do you see software playing a greater role in the automotive world?

Photo courtesy of Continental

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