The Car Key of the Future

BMW Innovation opens up mulitiple possibilities to use a car key to store information, make payments, and open not just cars but hotel rooms as well.

A weekend trip with just your BMW car key on you?
Not a problem, you can use it to book tickets, make cashless payments and access your hotel room.

"Our vision is that, in future, the key will not only mean access to the car but, inside and outside the car, will become as it were the "key" to many functions. I would then be able to set out while checking for just one thing: Have I got my BMW key on me?" - Thomas Kratz, Development Access and Authentication Systems, BMW Group

BMW believes that the car key of the future will offer a significantly wider range of features. Today, some car keys are able to store vehicle-related data, such as mileage, fuel level, battery charge level or service data, though this information can only be read by the appropriate appliance at a specialist garage. The keys of BMW vehicles can be further customized. Favorite radio stations and settings such as one-touch indicator flashing can be allocated to individual drivers via the car key.

Near Field Communication (NFC)
BMW specialists have added an NFC (Near Field Communication) interface and a security controller to a current BMW car key as a basis for interaction with contactless payment, ticketing and access systems. NFC is a wireless communications technology that is based on RFID (radio-frequency identification) and allows intuitive usage scenarios at short ranges of under ten centimeters. It involves briefly holding two NFC-enabled devices close together to activate the relevant response. NFC transfer technology is already widely used today, for example in contactless payment systems by credit card companies. E-ticketing systems, where travel or admission tickets are stored on contactless media, are also gaining in popularity. In some countries NFC technology is being used for personal identification in passports and ID cards. Experts at the BMW Group have further developed the technology and integrated scenarios like these in a car key. The NFC interface in the research prototype already allows for a range of new functions. For example, the driver can purchase a train ticket (KeyTicketing), call up the latest vehicle data for display on a mobile device (KeyInfo), make a contactless payment (KeyPayment), and even open hotel room doors (KeyAccess).

KeyTicketing – paperless tickets, please
A driver can use KeyTicketing to purchase the relevant ticket for use on local public transport or a train service from the comfort of the car and have it stored on the car key. Using the iDrive Controller, the driver can select the destination and confirm the purchase of the requested ticket. As an alternative to this form of booking via the display and iDrive, the driver will in future also have the option of requesting the BMW ConnectedDrive call center to search for the most suitable connection. Following confirmation by the customer, the relevant ticket is then booked, e.g. from the servers of Deutsche Bahn, paid for and sent to the car via the existing BMW Online connection. The car automatically transfers the ticket to the customer‟s key via UHF (ultra high frequency).

KeyInfo – all vehicle data at a glance while on the move
The idea behind KeyInfo is to grant the driver access to important vehicle information even when he or she is not in the car, by means of a mobile device with an NFC interface. The data currently obtainable includes the open or closed state of the vehicle, mileage, fuel level, battery charge level (for electric vehicles), latest alert messages, service data, GPS location of the vehicle and stored tickets. This allows the driver to double check whether the car is locked or see when the next service is due. A proposed CarFinder would be able to read the password-protected GPS position data and guide the driver back to the car if he is having difficulty finding the parking space. The charge level for an electric vehicle tells you whether the range is sufficient for a detour via the park or lake. The possibilities are numerous, as this set-up basically allows for the display of any kind of vehicle data and conditions while on the move. The user’s mobile device merely acts as a display unit, while the sensitive data remains on the key. The requirement for using KeyInfo is an NFC- enabled device with the BMW application installed. Data is automatically transferred from car to key at certain points, for example when the driver exits the car. Password protection for access to the relevant data is already in place.

KeyPayment – paying with the car key
The car key of the future will also serve as a contactless credit card. Thanks to a steadily growing infrastructure, this is already possible at many contactless payment terminals around the world. Since the car key – unlike a conventional credit card – is always there during a car journey, the customer‟s ability to pay when travelling is ensured.
Following the pattern of contactless credit cards, micropayments of sums up to approximately 25 euros can be made quickly and simply. All you have to do is hold the key to the terminal once. Larger sums can also be paid, but these require additional authorisation by the customer in the form of a signature or PIN, as when paying by ordinary credit card. Integrating the credit card function into the car key opens up further options for using services and applications from the car. These might range from new insurance and financial services to acquiring new vehicle software, all the way to drive-through payments allowing the customer to pay for a fuel bill, parking ticket or road toll from inside the car. Paying at drive-in restaurants would be another conceivable option based on this concept.

KeyAccess – a key that unlocks many doors
Based on the infrastructure described, a hotel room can be booked from the car and electronic access authorisation stored on the car key. Hotel room doors equipped with the appropriate technology can already be opened by car key. Instead of the contactless key card handed out by the hotel, you simply hold your key against the door lock. Future applications might also include the car key replacing the conventional house key or other access systems such as card readers. Likewise, the key could store access authorisation to the workplace and thus dispense with the ubiquitous company ID card.

The key vision
The possibilities extend beyond the four scenarios described. In future, via an interface at home the key could also enable personalized access to the BMW ConnectedDrive internet platform and thus allow numerous functions to be configured for even better and convenient control – without the need to enter login names, passwords or PINs. In this way, the intelligent car key would also open virtual doors. Vehicle settings and content compiled at the computer, such as a carefully plotted holiday route, are automatically uploaded to the car the next time it is used, the key serving personalization, authorization or even data storage purposes.

On a holiday trip, the smart car key of the future could do more than open hotel rooms: if, as well as booking an e-ticket, you also need a hire car to continue your journey, the smart key could also store the necessary authorisation to open and start the hire car – dispensing with the need to pick up the key for the hire car at an office. If the car key has stored authorization for use of the hire car, KeyInfo can also display the car’s location on a mobile phone to enable it to be found easily. Personalised settings and functions from one's own car would also be available in the hire car. Similar solutions would also be conceivable for company vehicle fleets. It isn‟t even necessary to develop all these solutions for the BMW key of the future since such functions are already partly available and partly in the offing; the "key" factor is that they could all be "opened up" using just one key.

"A key is the perfect medium for storing sensitive data. And if you should lose it, all functions can be disabled by a single phone call." - Thomas Kratz, Development Access and Authentication Systems, BMW Group