The old-school metal ignition key is rapidly going the way of the dodo. In a joint announcement today, Nissan, NTT Docomo, Inc., and Sharp Corporation introduced the development of a mobile phone capable of functioning as an "intelligent key" for automobiles in its home market of Japan.
The technology is a convergence of Nissan's Intelligent Key System, Sharp's mobile phone technology, and Docomo's "expertise in the marketability of mobile phones." The new version of the Intelligent Key System that has been installed on certain Nissan/Infiniti models since 2002 employs two-way wireless technology to perform door lock/unlock and engine start/stop features. Sharp worked these features into the handset of a mobile phone, and voila! As you read this, a 13-year-old somewhere in suburban America has surely incorporated all of this technology into software for the iPhone, and will be making boatloads of cash while your blue chips continue to tumble.
Like uncorking a bottle of vintage wine, starting a high-performance engine by twisting the key to the "start" position is one of those automotive joys that might soon be relegated to classic cars and the history books. Wine twist caps might be more efficient and seal better, just as cell phone/PDA/camera/smartkeys might be the most convenient way to gain access to and start the engines of tomorrow's automobiles. But we lament--sniffle--the gradual extinction of the ignition key. Start buttons just ain't the same.--Colin Mathews