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Apple's patent application could bring Touch ID or Face ID to the car

Apple thinks biometrics could give traditional keys a much-needed security boost.

Angela Lang/CNET

While keys and key fobs offer some degree of security against vehicle theft, those parts themselves are also susceptible to theft. One of Apple's newly published patent applications is aiming to add a few more layers of security, using a mobile device as a conduit.

Apple's patent application for a "System and method for vehicle authorization" was recently published online. The application, which was initially filed back in 2017, seeks to use mobile devices, and even biometric authentication, to add extra layers of security for a vehicle. As the patent application notes, "A vehicle with a key or a key fob provides rudimentary security and would benefit from many improvements."

The system's workings are complex, but they wouldn't appear so to the user. As the owner approaching a vehicle, that vehicle would send a signal to the mobile device, which would then communicate its approach back to the vehicle. The vehicle might request biometric authentication, which could be done on the mobile device, granting access to the car.

Patent drawings aren't usually of use to anyone but engineers and patent clerks, and Apple's are no exception to that rule.


It could go even further, using that biometric information to tell which registered user is approaching the vehicle. The car could then tailor various settings -- seat position, radio favorites, things of that ilk -- to the specific user. This bit isn't entirely new, as seat and climate settings have been tied to individual key fobs in the past, but it adds a few extra layers of security on top.

The application also mentions geofenced areas like gas stations. If the vehicle determined it was within a gas station's geofence, for example, it could display a payment prompt on the user's mobile device, sidestepping the payment process outside the vehicle. This isn't new, either -- GM's Marketplace, which is already on new cars' infotainment systems, allows for mobile payments to avoid card skimmers and other issues that could arise with card readers in public places.

Adding biometric authentication to the car sounds right up Apple's alley. Touch ID allowed for an extra layer of security when opening a phone or confirming a payment, and the newer Face ID tech does the same, albeit using a person's face instead of their fingerprint. While it may be years away, or never see the light of day whatsoever, it's still an interesting integration of Apple's strengths with a market into which Apple is slowly wading.

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