Your car key may be the next great wearable

Rainer Lutz, Business Segment manager at NXP

Read any tech blog today or check out the hottest technology showcases worldwide, and you can feel the buzz around the latest advancements in two key consumer-tech industries – automotive technology and wearables.

The top automakers and gadget designers understand the public’s insatiable appetite for new ways to push the limits of mobility while remaining connected to every aspect of their digital lives.

And, while the latest and greatest wearable gadgets – like smart watches and fitness bands – have arguably stolen many of the headlines, automakers have been envisioning ways to drive more personalisation and connectivity into the ultimate mobile device – your car. Enter the key to the future, the automotive smartkey, says Rainer Lutz, Business Segment manager at NXP.

Portable, wireless and remarkably interactive, smartkeys are like other recently introduced smart devices. Extraordinarily convenient when on the go and small enough to fit in a pocket, yet equipped with a touchscreen and secure wireless connectivity, smartkeys will help consumers maximise enjoyment out of one of their top investments. They can interact with other electronic systems, run apps and exchange digital content, and perform the functions of a smartcard for tasks like mobile payments, ticketing and physical access.key-story

As the all-access device of the future, smartkeys can pay tolls for turnpikes and bridges, pay for the tickets needed to ride public transport, and make it easier to pick up the tab for your friends at dinner. It can also open the gate at a parking garage, open the doors at work, unlock a rental bike rental or give access to a hotel room. It can even be used to grant temporary access to your car for family and friends.

But, the opportunity is greater than that; we are in an age where technology can know you inside and out. From online shopping sites that predict what you want to appliances that allow you to buy what you need, personalisation technologies keep upping the ante in the realm of digital comfort. Smartkeys are no different, and will be a central component to individualising the driving experience as autonomous cars become a reality.

They can be the central hub for your preferences, from the optimal position of your car seats to the content you consume as you actually enjoy sitting in traffic. However, as with all personalisation technologies and initiatives, it is paramount to respect every individual’s privacy. Whether manufacturers include ‘opt-in’ features or get pre-consent, it only makes sense that a device built with the security to protect privacy also is designed to respect privacy.

With the ever-growing number of connected devices currently available and a seemingly endless array of others on the horizon, many may wonder how smartkeys can differentiate themselves to carve out their own niche. While there’s no doubt that the smartkey is just one of the smart devices that make up a personal network along with smartphones, smartwatches and other wearables, smartkeys can have more longevity with their owners than other devices because – as I said previously – a person’s car is usually one of their largest investments.

Smartkeys are tightly linked with vehicle ownership. They’re issued with the car and bundled with the vehicle at the time of purchase. A person might get a new smartphone or tablet every couple of years, but will keep their smartkey for as long as they own their car, which could be many years.

Also, unlike a smartphone, core functions of a smartkey don’t need cellular service or Wi-Fi® to operate, and can still open and start a car even if the battery is dead. That could be highly advantageous when in an underground parking garage, a remote rural area, or during an emergency.

While I’ve discussed all of the ways that smartkeys for cars can make our lives more mobile and convenient, what about the important issue of data security? As we’ve all assuredly heard, the proliferation of Internet-of-Things-enabled electronics and connected everything has created a lot of concern about personal-data security – and rightfully so.

NFC payment in car
NFC payment in car

With all of the new data entry points for increasingly sophisticated hackers to attack, how can we trust smartkeys to protect our digital lives? In addition, I’d bet almost everyone would list their car keys as the number-one thing we temporarily misplace or lose altogether. It’s already stressful enough when we don’t have access to our car, so we definitely don’t want the added worry of compromising all of our financial information, contact information, etc.

Good news on this front as well; what sets smartkeys apart is security. Smartkeys are purpose-built for secure transactions, so they can be trusted to safely and securely deliver advanced functionality. Several of the new capabilities associated with smartkeys—payments, access, higher security and more sophisticated connectivity—are made possible by near-field communication (NFC), a tap-and-go technology that shares information and initiates tasks when two devices are brought close together.

NFC is now available in nearly every major smartphone, and is the enabling technology for a growing number of mobile-payment applications. NFC is also gaining ground in wearables, because initiating a secure transaction is both intuitive and deliberate – the user has to physically tap one device to another to establish a secure connection.

What if you lose your smartkey? Not only would you have an authentication process to stop someone from accessing your data and car immediately, but once you realise it’s lost, you have the ability to disable the smartkey from a remote location – even temporarily should you find it.

What if you’re somewhere where you don’t want to bring an electronic key – like at the beach? You could potentially temporarily tether a smartkey’s car-access functionality to a waterproof activity-band wearable, and then leave the key in the car.

The bottom line is that smartkeys for our cars have a definite place within the ecosystem of personal connected devices. They are both useful and secure. As the market cycles through all of the different ways we can connect to our digital lives – often with functionality overlap – consumers will select the matrix of devices that makes sense for them. But, with the market for wearables standing at $34 billion by 2020, the automotive smartkey has more than a viable path

The author of this blog is Rainer Lutz, Business Segment manager at NXP

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