Using a key to open car doors evolved to pushing a button on a key fob. Now, Volvo is seeking to change the automotive industry again.
The Swedish automaker announced Friday that it's testing replacing a physical key with a digital key accessed through a smartphone app in what the company claims will make it the "world's first car manufacturer to offer cars without keys from 2017."
The way the technology will work is Volvo's new app will enable the Bluetooth-synced digital key on the driver's smartphone, allowing the owner to do everything from locking and unlocking the doors or the trunk to even starting the engine without any physical key being involved at all.
Volvo envisions this technology to also offer customers the possibility of receiving more than one digital key on their app, enabling them to access different vehicles in different locations.
One example of such a use could be when ordering a rental car. The automaker says that drivers would simply open their app to potentially book and pay for a rental and as soon as the purchase is complete, the digital car key would be delivered to their smartphone. They could then use their phone's GPS to locate the rental vehicle before tabbing the digital key to unlock it and drive away, skipping the hassle of waiting at an airport rental terminal.
Adding to the convenience, which is what the technology stresses on, the digital car keys will also be able to be sent to friends or family members, so that they could be granted access to driving the cars, too. A similar example would come into play with co-workers and the sharing of a company car as well.
"At Volvo we are not interested in technology for the sake of technology. New technology has to make our customers' lives easier and save them time," Henrik Green, Volvo's vice president of product strategy and vehicle line management, said as part of the company's press release statement Friday. "Mobility needs are evolving and so are our customers' expectation to access cars in an uncomplicated way. Our innovative digital key technology has the potential to completely change how a Volvo can be accessed and shared. Instead of sitting idle in a parking lot the entire day, cars could be used more often and efficiently by whoever the owner wishes."
Volvo plans to pilot its digital key technology this spring, in partnership with the ride-sharing firm Sunfleet in Sweden, before introducing it via a limited number of commercial vehicles in 2017.
When the digital keys impact Volvo models on a wider scale, physical keys will continue to be offered for those who don't want to take advantage of the new technology.