Truly Keyless

By this time, most drivers have heard of remote start. It’s not fun climbing into a car at the peak of summer when the in-car temps can reach triple digits, or in the winter when everything is iced over. So, at the push of a button you start up your car and come back when it’s a bit more comfortable.

What about cars with a proximity sensor? Forget having to push a key-fob button to unlock your car, although most of us remember when an actual key was the only way in. Now there are many vehicles with so-called PEPS, or Passive Entry, Passive Start capabilities. Rather than needing to pull out a key from one’s pocket or purse, the key sends a signal to the car that it’s nearby, and the car creates a digital “handshake” with the authorized key. Touching the door’s handle unlocks it, and the car is started by pushing a button. The car cannot be locked if the key is left in the car.

So what if you didn’t even need the key?

Keyless car? There’s an app for that!


That is the idea that Volvo wants to make comfortable and natural. Volvo wants to be the first automaker to use a smartphone instead of a key. This technology would allow users to lock, unlock and start the car with a smartphone. The key could be left at home.

The credentials would be transferable for friends and family, or short expiration uses for a valet, test drive, or rental.

The Swedish automaker is not the first to introduce an app like this. BMW, GM and Tesla all have apps that perform similar functions. Turning on the AC from your phone, for instance.

In some ways, they offer less, by increasing the complexity of operating a vehicle. In Tesla’s case, one needs to open the app and then enter a PIN to start the car or unlock the doors. Although good in an emergency, using the internet to transfer vehicle starting or unlocking information is not a very secure way forward.

And what if you were dealing with a slow or no internet connection, or a dead cellphone battery? You couldn’t get into your car or start it.

Then there is the cost of additional data use. Although larger data plans are becoming increasingly popular with smartphone users, you would still be using your data plan to handle these automotive functions.

Despite the advances, it will be a while, if ever, before smartphone apps entirely replace keys that drivers carry around. So until phones become more secure and have better battery life, I think I’ll be keeping that key-fob in my pocket.