Digital vehicle keys and smart labels to take off in 2020

automotive smart keys
Hyundai has jumped on the emerging trend of digital vehicle keys that use a smartphone app to control vehicle access and functions. (Hyundai)

With the IoT strengthening its hold on more aspects of business and consumer applications, areas that were long considered low-tech are becoming more intelligent. Two examples are digital keys and smart labels, which according to two executives at Dialog Semiconductor are expected to ramp up more rapidly in 2020.

In an e-mail statement to FierceElectronics, Erik Peters, international product marketing manager of Dialog Semiconductor, says 2020 will see the first wave of digital keys hit the market. “One of the biggest advancements in Bluetooth low energy (BLE) over the past year has been within the connected car and the use of the smartphone as its digital key. In fact, there are several major players in the market that have been working to make digital keys more widespread, and consumers will increasingly be able to use their phones to unlock and start their cars after getting within a certain distance from the vehicle. These digital keys will also give drivers greater wireless control over features like infotainment, tire pressure monitoring and so on.”

In recent years, more automobiles have incorporated intelligent technology in automotive key fobs that enabled users to unlock and start their cars without physically inserting the key into the vehicle’s door or ignition switch, at long as the key fob was present. Now, technology is progressing to the point where even the key fob does not need to be present.

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Several automakers have already jumped on smart key technology. Volvo announced a smart key technology back in 2016. In a USA Today article from March, Korean automaker Hyundai announced a smart key system that works with up to four smartphones. The system uses near-field communication (NFC) technology to detect whether the approved phone is close to the vehicle's door.

According to Hyundai, the smartphone is placed in the wireless charging pad in the center console and then the user can press a start/stop button on the dashboard to start the engine. The technology is present in the 2020 Hyundai Sonata.

The USA Today article noted that Tesla's Model 3 also uses the phone, via Bluetooth, to open the car and prepare it for use as the driver gets within 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 smartphone technology will purportedly eliminate the problem of thieves stealing cars due to users leaving the key fobs with key-based technology in the vehicle.

Another low-tech technology going high tech is smart labels, which through the IoT can help users keep track of a product's usage.  

Adrie Van Meijeren, product marketing manager, Dialog Semiconductor, said in a statement to FierceElectronics, “Smart labels and asset tracking will be the biggest drivers for the industrial IoT. I expect that in the new year, we’ll see more organizations adopt smart labels across retail and manufacturing. These smart labels leverage BLE connectivity to help users keep track of a product’s usage. For example, in a retail setting, store owners can proactively track how products are performing, and then adjust pricing accordingly based on that behavior.

Van Meijeren added, “BLE technology will also be used with RFID asset tracking to help determine factors like customer foot traffic in the store to item locations in inventory.”

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