Announced earlier this year, Volvo’s new smartphone app for vehicle keyless entry is on display at the New York International Auto Show. Removing the need for key fobs, it puts the key directly onto the owner’s phone instead.
Using Bluetooth capability, the new app that enables keyless entry for the driver can do pretty much anything a normal key can do; it can open the trunk, unlock the doors, and start the engine itself, without needing to physically interact with the car at all.
Let’s say your dad wants to borrow the car for a quick trip to the store to pick up some milk. No problem! You, the owner, can grant a digital key to anyone you so choose, allowing temporary or permanent access to the car. Simpler than sending a text, it requires just a few button presses, with the recipient of the pass given all the relevant information that they would need to use the car: where it is, the make and model, and how long they can drive it for.
It may be a simple enough step forward, but the app presents more than just convenience for the primary holder. It is fertile ground for integration with current or future ride-hailing/car-sharing services, such as Uber, which is already popular in the US and across Europe. Community cars could possibly exist, with one car shared around a group of people who all pay a reduced fee towards the cost of running the vehicle.
However, there is a dramatically increased security risk. Recently, German researchers highlighted just how susceptible wireless key fobs are to infiltrate, by successfully gaining access to 24 vehicles using a remote hijacking device. Not only would this allow potential thieves to gain access to the car, but also to lock the current owners out by blocking their app.
What about terrorism risks? Why would you need to wait for the owner of a car to set off an explosive by turning on the ignition when you can do it remotely? The danger is clear – in an ideal world, the Bluetooth connection between the car and smartphone would be able to tighten down communication, but such a risk will always be present.
The technology is still a little way away from emerging into the global market; Volvo is currently testing the app at the Gothenburg airport with Sunfleet, a car-sharing firm. Commercial versions will not be available for purchase until 2017, and only with limited availability. For those concerned about the risks, physical keys will still be around for the new models – at least for now.
Jack Hadfield is a British writer and a regular contributor to Breitbart Tech. You can follow him on Twitter here: @ToryBastard_.