Hyundai is introducing a “Digital Key” that would allow drivers to unlock and start their vehicle via their smartphone.
Auto theft experts say that a rising number of drivers leaving their key fobs inside their vehicles is leading to increased rates of auto theft.
So maybe the best solution is to eliminate the key altogether.
Hyundai announced Monday that it is introducing a “Digital Key” that “allows users to unlock and start their Hyundai vehicle via their smartphone.”
The system can be programmed to work with up to four phones. It will use near-field communication (NFC) technology to detect whether the approved phone is close to the vehicle’s door.
“After unlocking the vehicle, the user can start the engine by placing the smartphone on the wireless charging pad in the center console and pressing an engine Start/Stop button on the dashboard,” Hyundai said in a statement.
Hyundai isn’t the first automaker to employ the smartphone as a key. Tesla’s Model 3 also uses the phone, via Bluetooth, to open the car and prepare it for use as the driver gets within range of about 30 feet of the car. NFC, which the Hyundai phone key uses, requires you to be within about 4 centimeters. Hyundai is part of a consortium, along with other carmakers like BMW and Volkswagen, developing standardized specifications for digital key systems.
The Hyundai system also enables the vehicle to automatically tune personal settings, such as seat position, mirrors and audio controls, to the specific driver.
The automaker will debut the system in the redesigned 2020 Hyundai Sonata, which will be revealed at the New York Auto Show in April.
“The Digital Key will benefit a very wide range of future Hyundai customers, as well as enabling innovative new schemes for vehicle sharing,” said Ho Yoo, group leader of Hyundai Motor Group’s Electronics Development Group, in a statement. “We are studying other ways to harness this type of connected-car technology to greatly enhance the driving and ownership experience.”
The technology’s introduction comes amid heightened concern about auto theft.
Vehicle thefts totaled 773,139 in 2017, according to recently released FBI statistics. That’s up 12.6 percent from the all-time low of 686,803 in 2014.
Many people are making it easy for thieves by leaving their key fobs in their vehicle, which enables criminals to steal cars by simply opening the door and pressing the start button.
The Hyundai system would theoretically eliminate concerns about thieves who currently swipe key fob data remotely and use that data to gain access to vehicles. That’s because NFC requires the device and the reader to be within “several centimeters” to work, Hyundai said.
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Hyundai is also developing a fingerprint-scanning system for starting a vehicle but it has not announced plans to bring that technology to the U.S.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.
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