Continentals Digital Key for Smartphones In the wake of a more technologically savvy society, a Smartphone has become an essential tool for all communicative purposes. Soon, a car key will be integrated into a smartphone with utility program or app. This is where Continental, one of the world’s foremost Automotive suppliers, comes into the picture…

Metropolitan areas are becoming ever larger, the streets ever more crowded, and in many places the search is on for alternatives to using private vehicles. Against this backdrop, a growing number of car sharing projects are being set up around the world, which reduce the volume of traffic while opening up new sales markets to automotive manufacturers at the same time. Continental is now driving this trend further with an innovative solution.

In simpler terms, the car key via an app, developed by Continental, will be installed in a user’s smartphone. The user then would be able to reserve a car and download the digital key onto his or her smartphone.

The car sharing system from Continental revolves around the digital key, which exchanges its data with the vehicle using near field communication (NFC). Continental sends a forgery-proof data record in an encrypted format to the cell phone each time a vehicle is about to be used. This is stored on the SIM card and contains the access authorization for the vehicle in question. Using NFC technology, the cell phone transfers the data (authentication, vehicle and diagnostics data, and user profile) over a distance of a few centimeters from the phone to an NFC reader (on the vehicle doors for example). Another receiver inside the car verifies the digital key when the engine is started.

The Digital Key App
A special app for smartphones makes it possible to rent a vehicle from the car sharing fleet. The user can use the utility program to find, select, and reserve vehicles in the city region. The smartphone can even navigate the user to the car’s location. It’s even possible to rent a vehicle spontaneously: As soon as the user holds his or her cell phone against a free car, a digital key is generated and sent to the smartphone once an availability check has been carried out on the server. The digital key unlocks the car and, depending on how it is programmed, the app retrieves further key data on the condition of the vehicle, before switching to a convenient navigation system.

Continental’s car sharing system has already passed its initial performance test. The Autopartage @ Toulouse project in France, which was realized together with Partners, has been running in the French city for almost two years, where the digital key opens the doors to a whole fleet of vehicles. In total 10 vehicles are part of the project. These are being used daily by employees of the city administration from Toulouse.

While most car sharing fleets currently still rely on systems that bundle all intelligence within the vehicle, Continental uses smartphone intelligence and only requires NFC technology within the car. The process’ advantages include considerable cost reduction, a significantly lower investment by a factor of ten and a higher level of security. In this area, Continental brings two positive pointers, one; the digital key is cheaper than vehicle-based systems, and second; it provides greater flexibility. Most of the latest systems can only be used with vehicles from certain vehicle series or models from individual manufacturers, whereas the digital key can be used with all makes and models from compact Japanese makes, German sedans to MPVs.

For security purposes, the digital key works within the same data range and according to principles identical to the payment functions that are also stored on the phone, and therefore meets banks’ strict requirements. In addition, data is only synchronized between the phone and vehicle in encrypted format and not using an external antenna via a service center. As such, the system is equipped with very good protection from tampering. The user is not inconvenienced by these security procedures. On the contrary, this makes the system easier to use than ever.

However, Continental’s system is not only good value for money and secure, it also functions better in everyday life. Since all communication takes place via the cell phone and not via the vehicle, it does not matter at all where the vehicle is parked. Conventional car sharing vehicles rely on a constant GPS and radio connection and are difficult to locate, log in to, and log out from in narrow spaces between high-rise buildings, underground parking lots, and parking garages. Whereas vehicles can even be parked five stories underground using Continental technology – as was necessary for the Toulouse project. As soon as the user emerges onto the street again together with his or her cell phone, the location of the vehicle is registered and sent to the central office and the current rental service ends.

And this is just the beginning, since Continental’s system is freely scalable and can be easily expanded to include new functions at any time. For example, it will also be possible in the future to save personal settings for the vehicle on the digital car key. The system already features automatic Bluetooth-Pairing of the mobile phone. This could also be used in the future to transfer music data, favorite radio channels and seat preferences so that the driver instantly feels at home in the short-term rental car. The digital key from Continental also provides all the features necessary for use in other modes of transport. When appropriate software modules are added to the system, the car key of the future may even replace tickets for public transport as part of the growing networking of traffic. As such, the personal car key on a cell phone will open the doors to buses and trains for its user.

Edited: Continental