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Automakers standardize smartphone 'digital key' for vehicles

by Justin King

Drivers can download a digital NFC key onto a device to unlock a car and start the engine.

A consortium of companies from the automotive and tech industries has standardized 'digital key' technology that will allow a car to be started via a smartphone.

The Car Connectivity Consortium is backed by smartphone makers Apple and Samsung, along with Audi, BMW, General Motors, Hyundai, Volkswagen and a long list of suppliers.

Some automakers have already implemented digital key technology in select vehicles. The formalized Release 1.0 specification and upcoming v2.0 release pave the way for a much wider rollout that could eventually support the majority of vehicles, smartphones and other mobile devices such as smartwatches.

Using near-field communication (NFC), the digital key allows a smartphone to be used to unlock/lock a vehicle and start the engine. It also supports user authentication and car sharing, eliminating the need to hand off a physical key for each use.

"We're already seeing products in the market that are leveraging Release 1.0, and I believe that the forthcoming Digital Key Release 2.0 will have an even bigger impact on the industry as we meet needs for massive scalability," says CCC president Mahfuzur Rahman.

Audi already offers a digital key feature in some vehicles, while Volkswagen promises it will launch a similar product 'soon.'