If you've ever driven a car like the Toyota Prius, you know the joy that comes with a know-it-all key fob. There's no fumbling in your pocket in the rain to unlock the door; so long as the fob is in your pocket, the car unlocks itself when you approach.
Now, now matter what sort of vehicle you drive, you can experience the same thing, thanks to a start-up called Mobile Enhancement Specialist and its product, Bluetooth Keyless Entry.
Sadly, that's not the catchiest name on record (and the company's low-budget website could use a serious spell- and grammar-check), but it does describe the device pretty well.
Like many new-tech products for motorists, this one relies on cell phones, which pair with MES's Bluetooth-enabled dongle. Unlike some of those products, however, this dongle needs to be installed by a professional mechanic, but once it's up and running, the effect is largely the same.
As you'll see from the (rather lengthy) demo video above, there are two versions of Bluetooth Keyless Entry -- standard and premium. They're nearly identical, but the differences are important:
1. The premium version uses a low-energy iteration of Bluetooth -- which is great, since Bluetooth can be a battery hog, sucking cell phones dry in no time flat.
2. The premium version works specifically with smartphones and comes with a mobile app (available for iOS and Android). This allows the user to interact with her vehicle in real time.
3. The premium version can make use of a smartphone's notification system, sending a driver messages in case of important events.
4. The premium version also accommodates more than one cell phone -- handy for households with more than one driver.
The premium version of Bluetooth Keyless Entry recently debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show, and according to our colleagues at Cnet, it begins shipping this December for a price of $189.99. Sadly, you're on your own finding it: the company's website doesn't even offer links to retailers.
As exciting as this technology is, it does have a couple of drawbacks. Most importantly, if you leave your phone at home, Bluetooth Keyless Entry doesn't work as it should. (Though you'll be able to use your car key to open and lock the vehicle.)
And in the larger scheme of things, Bluetooth Keyless Entry doesn't really do anything new. It offers incremental, not exponential improvements. It's what we'd call gap technology: just as hybrid cars allow us to make do until fully electric vehicles catch up, technology like Bluetooth Keyless Entry offers a slightly more elegant version of the conventional key until scanners for fingerprints or irises or some other part of our bodies become available.
On the upside, Bluetooth Keyless Entry hints at a very different tomorrow for the auto industry -- one in which tech firms and device-makers influence the driving experience as much as or perhaps more than automakers themselves.
It's a bit like today's computers. Most of us don't care whether we're toting around a Samsung or a Dell, or even a Mac or a PC. What matters -- what we interact with -- are the programs installed on the hard drive.
The question is: will automakers step back give software startups room to work? And do we want them to?