Volvo’s Digital Key Can Kill Off the Fob

The ultimate fix for everyday-carry clutter.

Volvo Digital Key

Come 2017, Volvo expects to be the first automaker in the world to sell its cars without keys. Customers will have the option to use an app-based, Bluetooth-enabled digital key, which provides the same functionality as the current radio-frequency identification keyfob, minus the pocket bulge. You won’t need to fiddle with the app to get in the car and start it, you will only need to have your phone with you. If it sounds wild and futuristic, the Mercuino Project showed off the same development in 2013. But that was one guy tinkering with a homebrew hacking kit. This is a major manufacturer. Volvo's system will be vastly more robust.

The company envisions open-ended expandability, one of the wider uses being car-sharing—an owner can receive a digital key to open a different Volvo, or send a key to someone borrowing the car. A similar system with limited functionality, which allows users to get packages delivered to their cars, has already been trialled in Sweden for a year. Called Roam Delivery, it allows local customers who ordered from three e-commerce partners to notify the delivery person where their car was parked; when the delivery person was close, the car owner would send a digital key to the courier, who could then open the trunk and leave the package. The system is still in pilot phase, but initial results showed that 86 percent of participants said it saved them time.

A Volvo spokesman tells The Drive that buyers will be able to get a physical key to use alongside the app, taking care of issues like valet parking and dead cellphone batteries. And the threat of hacking?

“The vehicle’s system will have several layers of security to prevent criminal access of a car," our insider explains. "With a digital key, a user can disable that key in the event the phone is misplaced or stolen, which is a distinct advantage when compared to traditional keys being stolen.”

This year will see the digital key trialled on Volvo products in the Sunfleet car-sharing service at the airport in Gothenburg, Sweden. Sometime next year, it will migrate to selected models on the showroom floor—assuming no snafus arise. As of this writing, Volvo says "a timeframe for a U.S. pilot has yet to be set."