From the usage of traditional turnkey starter systems to car keys with a remote keyless system, lock and key systems have undergone quite an evolution. Many current car models utilize a Smart Key system where the owner does not need the key to have any physical contact with the vehicle itself, but can lock and unlock remotely, and even turn on the engine if the key is within a proximity of the vehicle. Development has only continued. Now, even a personal mobile device can act as a key – unlocking, locking, and turning on the engine without a separate, physical car key.

The “Digital Key” allows for an entirely seamless driving experience. 

What is a Digital Key?

The digital key system allows for a smart mobile device to take the place of a physical key. With the installation of a mobile application, the digital key takes on all the roles of the traditional key – locking, unlocking, even turning on the engine. 

Digital keys are a practical and convenient feature,as it enables the driver to more seamlessly access their vehicles for driving, replacing the functionsof traditional, physical keys.

The communication technology used for digital keys is Near Field Communication (NFC), which is the same technology most notably already used for contactless payment systems. Because of the embedded NFC technology in present-day mobile devices, a driver can utilize their phone in order to access their vehicle. 

Shareable, but Secure

As one can with a regular key, a digital key can also be sent and shared with others.

However, in order to keep the sharing process secure, the sender can select specific users to receive the key and limit their use of the key to certain functions. This shareability can contribute to the expansion of car sharing services in the era of connected and smart mobility.

Industry experts believe that the overlap between the autonomous vehicle industry and the car/ride-sharing industry is inevitable, as sharing a car is becoming much more conducive to the economical statuses of much of the population worldwide. With digital keys, car-sharing services will become much more convenient in terms of scale and implementation. 

The Digital Key Industry is expected to reach a valuation of USD 6 Billion by 2029, and projected growth rate of 

* Credit: Persistence Market Research

The industry is expected to initially increase growth in Europe, currently the world’s largest automotive market. China and East Asia are also showing promising prospects in the market.  

Standards and Compliance

The Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), a cross-industry organization advancing smartphone-to-car connectivity solutions, is currently in the process of developing Digital Key Release 3.0, a next generation technology that supports passive, location aware keyless access through BLE in combination with UWB (Ultra-wideband). Because of UWB connections, mobile devices will be able to access vehicles from a further point.  

Digital Key 1.0 : Digital Key allows smart devices to safely lock/unlock vehicles
Digital Key 2.0 : Digital Key technology with standard authentication protocol, providing reinforced security and extendibility

Digital Key Support from Major Cellular Device Manufacturers

Major cellular device manufacturers have joined the CCC and are supporting the expanding scope of the digital key. While the technical details of how the devices support the digital key have yet to be released, it is expected that they will support lock/unlocking as well as ignition control through biometric authentication (Face ID technology and fingerprint recognition).

These operating systems are used daily by 94% of the world, and exposure of access functions through digital keys are likely to contribute to a quicker expansion and adoption of the technology worldwide. 

AutoCrypt Digital Key

AUTOCRYPT is the first mobility security company in Asia to join the Car Connectivity Consortium, and is working with the organization in order to conduct research, studying the level of convenience and stability of the Digital Key. 

AUTOCRYPT's digital key implements PKI for security, issuing certificates at the module manufacturing stage, in accordance with policy. Certificates are issued in conjunction with the CA or the manufacturer's CA. Manual issuance of a certificate is possible but is produced and inserted into the module through a separate program. 


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