Way back when the sun first rose on the automobile, hand cranking was the preferred way to start an engine. Keys didn’t really come into fashion until magneto and coil-operated ignition systems were mainstreamed. But the car key has evolved since its infancy as a finely shaped lump of metal. Modern keys aren’t even keys in the traditional sense, they’re short-range radio transmitters with a transponder chip that disarms a vehicle immobiliser.
BMW is reassessing the practical value of car keys entirely, according to Ian Robertson, the company’s board member responsible for sales. Robertson, struck with the divine sight, envisions a hypothetical world where your smartphone performs double duty — eliminating the need to lug around the extra nine grams of metal associated with car keys.
“Honestly, how many people really need it,” Robertson said in an interview with Reuters at the Frankfurt Motor Show, explaining that drivers no longer have to physically insert their key in the ignition.
“They never take it out of their pocket, so why do I need to carry it around?” Robertson continued, adding that BMW is considering getting rid of keys altogether. “We are looking at whether it is feasible, and whether we can do it. Whether we do it right now or at some point in the future, remains to be seen.”
Since the industry has seen fit to bestow us with keyless solutions that require needlessly bulky fobs, not having to carry a pager-sized device would be nice. However, some of us miss the days when physical keys were more prevalent. While not the most elegant of solutions, they slotted nicely onto a ring with every other key our lives dictate we carry and used to include a small optional remote for locking and unlocking doors.
The upside is that, since so few automakers want to scale down keyless remotes to a rational size, only using your phone would free up some pocket space. However, the downside is you would be utterly stranded if your phone lost power or suffered a fatal drop to the pavement.
Robertson’s discussion indicates BMW is only toying with the idea but it has actually progressed a lot further than that. BMW’s i Remote App for the Samsung Gear smartwatch took top honors at the CES Innovation Awards in 2015. Synced to one of the brand’s electric vehicles, the app can monitor charge, regulate climate, or act as a digital key. It’s not the only automaker that’s dabbled in this technology, either. Other companies have rolled out apps that allow owners to better-connect with their vehicles. Even the more working-class Hyundai Blue Link system allows smartphone users to remotely lock, unlock, and start their vehicle.