Volvo Will Be the First Automaker to Offer Cars Without Keys

Tech News

Mobile World Congress doesn’t start officially for a few days, but announcements from Barcelona are already heating up the newswire. Volvo Cars, in a surprising move, revealed today that it will become the first automaker to offer vehicles without keys starting in 2017.

In lieu of a physical key, Volvo owners will be offered an application for their smartphones that will use Bluetooth technology to perform much of the tasks a traditional key would, such as unlocking the doors and allowing the engine to start.

More interesting, though, are the possibilities for key sharing that digital keys allow. With Volvo’s new app users can share or receive multiple keys, allowing them to access several cars without the need of swapping anything physical. The feature can also be applied to the world of rental cars. If you’re travelling to a different state or country, instead of having to wait in a rental line at the airport, you can have your car booked and key delivered the minute you make the reservation. The freedom and simplicity, if it works as advertised, could be revolutionary.

“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. Mobility needs are evolving and so are our customers’ expectation to access cars in an uncomplicated way,” Henrik Green, Vice President Product Strategy & Vehicle Line Management at Volvo Cars, said in a statement. “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, of course, does not address any initial concerns users might have with switching to a digital key. Presumably, if your phone dies, you’d be locked out or, if the Bluetooth malfunctions, you could miss out on that rental car you desperately need. The clear backup would be a real, physical key, but based on the language used in Volvo’s press release, the company does not plan to issue both types of key, merely give the customer the option. The final line of the release reads, “Physical keys will continue to be offered for people who want them.”

The company plans to pilot the new technology in 2016 through its car sharing firm Sunfleet. In 2017, a limited number of commercial cars will be equipped with the new technology.

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