Continental is the latest in line to propose a way as to how Near Field Communication (NFC) technology found in today’s smartphones can be used to make life a whole lot easier. Its latest innovative solution, called the Digital Key, aims to integrate a digital car key with a conventional smartphone together with a special utility program which can be implemented as a car sharing system for rental car fleets.
Continental will send a forgery-proof data record in an encrypted format to a smartphone whenever a vehicle is about to be used. This data record which is stored on the SIM card contains access authorization for the vehicle in question on top of the vehicle’s information and user profile. All of this can be transferred in a matter of seconds, resulting in increased efficiency in the hiring of rental cars.
The focal point which connects users and the car sharing fleet is a special app for smartphones which will allow users to find, select and reserve vehicles within their vicinity. The app also allows for spontanenous rental, whereby a user can hold his or her phone against a free car, resulting in a digital key being generated and sent to the phone once an availability check is completed. After retrieving any important vehicle information, the app then conveniently transforms into a navigation system for the driver.
Most car sharing fleets currently rely on systems which bundle all the intelligence within the vehicle whereas by using smartphone intelligence and NFC, Continental’s approach is much cheaper as there is less cost required per vehicle since one smartphone can be repeatedly re-used as a digital key containing the intelligence to multiple vehicles. It also promises flexibility as Continental’s car sharing system will be able to support a wide range vehicles of various manufacturers all in a single fleet. Continental’s digital key also promises a high level of security. It works according to the same data range and principles identical to payment functions stored on smartphones which meet strict requirements of banks. Also, because synchronization occurs between the smartphone and vehicle in encrypted format instead of via an antenna or a network centre, the likelihood of tampering is much lower compared to conventional methods. Despite the added security, users will not encounter any hassle as long as he or she is in possession of the smartphone since it acts as a keyless entry system whereby the user can just place it in the holder and start the vehicle immediately.
Apart from its advantages in terms of economy and security, this innovative system is future-ready, being freely scaleable and easily expandable to include new functions from time to time. As it is, the system supports Bluetooth pairing of the mobile phone and this can be used in the future for media transfer or even as a remote control for in car features such as seat preferences and radio channel control. Additionally, the digital key can be used for broader applications such as using it as a mobile ticketing system for public transportation.
The Digital Key has been tested on an initial fleet in Toulouse France to demonstrate the key’s efficient operation and so far, all tests carried out have been successful indicating that Continental’s proposed system is closer to reality than it is a concept.