With its latest mobile OS, Google is turning our smartphones into digital car keys.
The tech giant unveiled the concept, developed in collaboration with the car manufacturer BMW, at the 2021 Google I/O developer event. The two companies will make the new generation of cars compatible with the digital car key feature in the upcoming Android 12. The initial batch of devices that will support this feature will be Pixel and Samsung Galaxy devices and select BMW models in 2021 and 2022. It’s not yet known which models precisely will get these features and when.
As for the underlying tech, it’s pretty impressive stuff. It uses ultra-wideband (UWB) communication protocol, effectively working as sort of a 3D radar on both ends thanks to radio waves. Not only will you be able to locate your car using a smartphone – something everyone who has ever parked in a crowded lot will appreciate – but also remotely lock and unlock your vehicle without even taking the phone out of your pocket.
The key functionality doesn’t stop there. If your car comes with an NFC sensor, you’ll be able to unlock your car by tapping your Android 12 device on the car door. Just like physical ones, these digital keys can be duplicated and shared with family or friends. Google claims this will be done through a very secure protocol, so you won’t have to worry whether your digital keys will fall into the wrong hands.
“When purchasing a phone these days, we’re buying not only a phone but also an entire ecosystem of devices that are all expected to work together — such as TVs, laptops, cars, and wearables like smartwatches or fitness trackers,” Google’s VP of engineering, Erik Kay, blogged. In the same article, Kay predicts that the number of connected devices per person will go to 13 within the next year.
Android 12 is currently in the public beta, with the full release expected later this year. You’ll likely want to upgrade from your old small-screen smartphone in the meantime.