Hyundai Develops a ‘Digital Car Key' Smartphone App

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【Summary】Hyundai Motor Group announced the development of a new "Digital Key", which allows users to unlock and start their Hyundai vehicle via their smartphone instead of carrying around a key fob. The app-based “Digital Key” replaces a traditional physical key or key fob. The technology allows a driver to share their “key" with up to four other authorized users.

FutureCar Staff    Apr 10, 2019 7:10 PM PT
Hyundai Develops a ‘Digital Car Key' Smartphone App
Hyundai want to replace keys with a smartphone app. (Photo: Hyundai Motor Group)

Traditional car keys are well on their way to becoming thing of the past. This includes carrying around electronic key fobs as vehicles become more advanced. Many modern vehicles, including Tesla models, unlock the vehicle just by having the key fob in your pocket. However the same digital security of a key fob transmitter can now be incorporated into a smartphone app, for a more secure way to unlock or lock a vehicle.

Hyundai Motor Group announced the development of a new 'Digital Key', which allows users to unlock and start their Hyundai vehicle via their smartphone instead of carrying around a key fob. The app-based "Digital Key" replaces a traditional physical key or key fob. The technology allows a driver to share their "key" with up to four other authorized users. Each user simply needs to download the app on their smartphones and be granted access.

The technology uses Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to detect the presence of an authorized Digital Key-enabled cell phone in close proximity to the vehicle door.

NFC is a form of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), which boasts a high level of security. The NFC wireless data communication only works at close range, when the device and the reader are placed several centimeters apart.

The NFC antenna for entry identification is embedded in the handles of the driver and front passenger's doors, with an additional one that actually starts the vehicle located within the wireless charging pad inside the car.

The extra level of security prevents the car from starting, even if someone were to gain unauthorized access to enter the vehicle. After unlocking the vehicle, the user can start the engine by placing their smartphone on the wireless charging pad in the center console and pressing an engine Start/Stop button on the dashboard.

With this digital key system, all of a user's personalized settings are stored in the vehicle. When the key is recognized those settings are adjusted automatically – including the position of mirrors, seats and the steering wheel, as well as controls for the audio, video and navigation (AVN) systems and head-up display.


Hyundai's Digital Key also comes with a RFID card to give trusted users access to the vehicle.

Hyundai's Digital Key can also be used to control selected vehicle systems remotely via their smartphone. Using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) communication, users can lock and unlock the vehicle, activate the alarm and start the engine.

Hyundai says that once autonomous parking features are an available option, a Hyundai owner can use their vehicle's smartphone app to remotely park their vehicle, or even summon it on-demand.

The level of access to different vehicle functions can be tailored to each user, for a defined period. The vehicle owner can preset the duration of vehicle use or limit the use to only certain features when renting the vehicle.

The smartphone app can even be used to enable parcel deliveries to the vehicle truck, something e-commerce giant Amazon is already testing this feature in a pilot program with General Motors and Volvo. Using this technology, owners of compatible GM and Volvo vehicles can have their Amazon orders securely delivered to their vehicle's trunk wherever it is parked, instead of their home.

Once car sharing services become more widespread, the Digital Key can be further programmed to support hassle free vehicle rentals, where the owner and the driver won't have coordinate an in-person meeting get the keys. Instead, a user can transfer the Digital Key to another user via the cell phone application. Car-sharing platform Turo is one of the companies that might benefit from using this technology.

"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. "We are studying other ways to harness this type of connected-car technology to greatly enhance the driving and ownership experience."

In future applications, Hyundai's Digital Key may allow for features such as an alarm to be triggered when the vehicle exceeds a predefined speed or travels outside a designated geo-fenced area. This feature might go over well with concerned parents of young drivers, so they can remotely monitor the car to make sure it is driven in a safe manner.

For cases when a driver uses a valet service or visits a repair shop, where handing over a digital key is not feasible, a conventional smart key and card type key will also provided to Hyundai owners. The plastic card works the same way a hotel room key card does. It can be carried in a wallet like a credit card and given to a valet attendant to unlock and start the vehicle as needed.

Hyundai Motor Group aims to gradually implement the technology in its new production cars, starting with next generation Sonata which is to make its U.S. debut in the New York Motor Show in April.

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