Wireless smart car keys: the future or dumb idea? - Embedded.com

Wireless smart car keys: the future or dumb idea?


PARIS — Forjust about everything we do these days,”there's an app for that.” Is the car keydestined to become one more little tile on asmartphone screen?

The thought hit me recently whileinterviewing Broadcom executive TomRamsthaler, responsible for productmarketing of wireless connectivity. Indiscussing the company's upcoming802.11ac/Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) combochip, Ramsthaler explained to me what heenvisions as in-vehicle applications enabledby Bluetooth LE.

He talked about Nissan Watch, unveiled atthe Frankfurt Auto Show last month. Thesmartwatch, using a Bluetooth LE connection,gathers telemetry data from a car so that itcan show the driver the car's efficiencyinformation, such as fuel consumption, whilealso tracking performance. The Nissan Watchalso monitors certain parameters of driverhealth, like heart rate in a traffic jam.

Nissan Watch links a car and a driver.

NissanWatch links a car and a driver.

OK, mildly interesting. But hardly the massmarket product that will prompt everycarmaker to embrace Bluetooth LE, I thought.However, Ramsthaler mentioned offhand thatBluetooth LE would be useful as a smart carkey.

Now I'm interested.

As I recall, NXP, armed with the lion'sshare in the smart car key market, had beenthinking along these lines. NXP came up witha single-chip solution for multi-functioncar keys using Near Field Communication(NFC) technology. The idea is for keys toconnect to external NFC-compliant devices,such as mobile phones, tablets, and laptops.Announcing the product, called KEyLink Lite,NXP talked about potential “smart” keyapplications including car finder, routeplanner, and car status/service datamanagement.

So, now that Broadcom is coming to theautomotive market with Bluetooth LE chips,will we be seeing an NFC vs. Bluetooth LEbattle brewing in the smart car key market?

Or better yet, will there be a day when wecan do away with our car keys and flip opena car door simply by waving the phone?

Not so fast.

Talking to several executives at theEuropean Microelectronics Summit, I quicklyrealized that using a smartphone to enter acar is actually not a smart idea.

Ian Riches, director of global automotivepractice at Strategy Analytics, agreed thatunlocking a car with a smartphone ispossible. But he cautioned: “The problem isthat a lot of people go inside a car tocharge their smartphones. What if yoursmartphone already ran out of battery? Youcan't even open your car door!”

To read more, go to “Unlocking the keyless car future.

4 thoughts on “Wireless smart car keys: the future or dumb idea?

  1. These Smartwatches seem line a solution for a non-existant problem.

    The example in the phot is really stupid. Somone is going too fast so the watch distracts them and encourages them to take their eyes off the road to tell them the car is going too fast.

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  2. I want a physical key! I'm disappointed that our new Toyota minivan doesn't have a keyhole on the passenger side door, as I don't always carry that bulky remote control.

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  3. I can relate to that. Some years ago I did a lot of SCUBA diving. We would put our car keys on lanyards and take them with us. Can't do that with electronic keys.

    It begs the question: do all these features really bring us more convenience and improve our

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  4. What about security? BT doesn't have a stellar history in this regard.

    And even if the comm channel is guaranteed to be 100% secure, is it safe to rely on a cell phone for storing key information? Someone that can hack your phone and pull codes now has

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