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Apple, Audi, BMW agree on standard for using smartphones as car keys

The Connected Car Consortium is trying to standardizing NFC technology that would let you drive your car without a traditional key fob.

Lincoln Aviator
The upcoming Lincoln Aviator is one of many cars that you'll be able to unlock and drive using only your smartphone.

What if you could leave your bulky key fob at home and simply use that device you've always got with you -- your phone -- to unlock and drive your car? That's the goal of a new technology standard released by the Car Connectivity Consortium. It aims to standardize rules and processes for using phones as replacements for car keys.

The Digital Key 1.0 specification provides a secure way for a user to "download" a digital key onto their phone, which then uses NFC communication to unlock, lock and even start a car. The Consortium says the technology uses a "Trusted Security Manager" system to guarantee the security of the digital keys on each user's device.

The Car Connectivity Consortium counts car companies Audi, BMW, General Motors, Hyundai and Volkswagen among its members, as well as tech companies like Apple, Samsung, LG and Panasonic. Several automakers have already promised that their vehicles will support using a phone as a replacement for a key, including Audi, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Volvo.

These keys could also make car sharing easier because renters wouldn't need to receive the physical keys to borrow another vehicle. Car-sharing company Turo is already experimenting with a device that can allow a car's owner to unlock it remotely with their phone.

The Consortium is now working on Digital Key 2.0, set for release in early 2019, which will offer a "standardized authentication protocol" for phones and cars. The goal of that updated standard is to make sure that various cars and mobile devices are all interoperable.

Volvo Car as Key

Volvo also wants to do away with traditional keys for future vehicles.