Over the past several years, we've become accustomed to cars with remote keyless entry. Many of us have also gotten out of the habit of using ignition keys to start our vehicles, relying instead on fobs that remain in our pockets or purses.
Now, Volvo wants to take things one step further by eliminating keys and fobs altogether. Starting in 2017, the automaker will allow consumers to open, start, and share their cars using an app on their smartphones.
The app uses Bluetooth to interact with Volvo models, and as you can see in the promo video above, it works much like using a fob. When a driver approaches her car with Bluetooth engaged on her smartphone, the vehicle unlocks. It also allows drivers to start the engine and unlock the trunk or liftgate.
The truly innovative part of this "digital key" technology is how it allows vehicles to be shared. Owners can share their cars with friends, family members, and co-workers just by approving them in the Volvo app. Eliminating the need to exchange physical keys could mean that cars get more use. As Volvo's Henrik Green explains, "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's app might allow users to identify, pay for, and access rental cars in much the same way. That could be a welcome offering from rental companies, allowing app users to skip the frustratingly long lines found at many offices.
And there's one more thing to like about Volvo's digital key: safety. Physical ignition switches are, in essence, one more moving part, one more piece of a vehicle that can fail (as we saw a couple of years ago during General Motors' "Switchgate" fiasco). Relying on a digital key could help make vehicles marginally safer -- provided, of course, that cars turn themselves off properly when drivers exit the vehicle.
Finally, for those who remain convinced that it's easier to keep up with a key than with a smartphone, never fear. Volvo says that it will continue to offer physical keys to consumers who want them.