Keyless, with even greater freedom

Car and smartphone manufacturers are working together to offer end users a keyless service, so that they can control their car like any connected device and share access rights easily with other users through their smartphones.

A father travelling abroad could, for example, send a virtual key to his son’s phone, allowing him to unlock and start the car on a particular evening or over the weekend. Or perhaps, after buying the groceries online, a customer could have them delivered to the trunk of his car, parked right in front of his home or office: thanks to a virtual key received on his smartphone the delivery guy will be authorized to open the trunk of the car within a limited window of time. These keys, sent remotely and in a secure way, will thus offer much greater flexibility than physical keys.

Revolutionizing services

Digitalizing “physical” keys and managing access rights also offers huge potential for car-sharing, an area in which many car manufacturers have already invested in, following the example set by BMW with Drive Now and Daimler with Car2go. The virtual keys will have to be stored in a secure environment on the user’s smartphone and perform the same role as physical keys, all while guaranteeing optimal levels of security to car manufacturers, similar to the ones set in place for banking services. In contrast to this, the NFC badges currently in use can be used to unlock the car, but physical keys are sometimes still needed to start it. As for online mobile apps, they don’t match car manufacturer’s security requirements and they require both sufficient mobile network coverage and enough battery to operate. To deliver these kinds of services en masse, car manufacturers and service providers now need an end-to-end secure solution, spanning manufacturer to driver, and that is also reliable and easy to manage.

”Cars will cease to be a product that we own, becoming rather a service that we share, forming an integral part of the sharing economy that values use over ownership”, explains Philippe De Oliveira, Automotive Director in OT’s Connected Device Makers business.

“Relying on the contactless feature of mobile phones, OT’s solution does not require network coverage meaning that it works everywhere, even in underground parking lots. And as the virtual key is stored in the mobile’s NFC secure element, it can be used even if the phone runs out of battery and, more importantly still, cannot be stolen.” 

The keyless car will also completely reinvent the car rental market in airports or major train stations, which currently require staff to be at hand to issue physical keys. The person renting the car could receive a virtual key directly to his smartphone, and a simple photo could be used to check the vehicle for damage: users will save precious time and the hire company will make a considerable saving on overheads.

In the B2B sector, corporate fleet management could also be made much simpler, giving each employee a virtual key of the car allocated to them, activated for their assignment.

Real security

Of course, all of these new uses raise data security and access issues. OT is making the entire platform available to car manufacturers, enabling users to be independent and retain full control sending virtual keys to friends, family, and third parties.

‘‘Each key issued by the manufacturer is stored within the eSE, the secure element built into the smartphone, and the manufacturer’s software is also secured in the ESE”, Philippe De Oliveira explains.

Astrategic supplier to mobile phone and car manufacturers, OT is building the bridge between the driver’s smartphone and his car. The eSE offers strong authentication of the device used. This provides end-to-end security, from the moment they register with the service prior to sending virtual keys to their effective use. In future, biometrics may be used to provide even more robust user authentication by permanently associating the user’s identity to his phone, or used in the vehicle for strong driver authentication before starting the car.

‘‘Because car manufacturers are the ones that will deliver these virtual keys to their customers, they will be at the heart of these new services, some of which can be monetized, thereby creating enduring relationships with owners throughout the vehicle’s lifetime”, Philippe De Oliveira conclude.

Besides, none of the first users of keyless cars miss jingling their keys!