Who needs a key? Toyota enables smartphone engine start

Anticipating more car sharing, Toyota develops the Smart Key Box, a device that lets people use their smartphones to access and start up a car, as long as they have the right codes.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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Toyota Smart Keybox
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Toyota Smart Keybox

Toyota's Smart Key Box will let the company seamlessly share its cars through partner services or its own service.


Following its announcement last week that it will partner with the Getaround car sharing service for a pilot project, Toyota shows off its Smart Key Box, a device that lets people use their smartphones to unlock and start up its cars. Intended to enable car sharing, the device works with a cloud service where an individual can be given access to a specific car for a set time period.

As urban populations increase, automakers expect fewer people to buy cars, with more using a car sharing service. BMW already reports that its ReachNow car sharing service is profitable, and GM has been expanding its Maven car sharing service in new urban markets. Automakers acknowledge that personal cars sit parked for over 95 percent of the time. Car sharing is seen as a more efficient way of using this resource.

Toyota says its Smart Key Box "can be placed in a vehicle without modification," enabling engine start and door lock access.

To make use of it, a potential driver arranges a loan of the car with an app on a smartphone. The app, connecting to Toyota's cloud-based Mobility Services Platform, could handle payments, loan scheduling and the amount of time for which the car is available.

When the smartphone is within Bluetooth range of the car, it shares an encrypted unlock code, giving the user access to the car and enabling its push-button ignition. The unlock code will only be active during the set time for which the car has been engaged, although a user would likely be able to extend the loan time with the app.

The Smart Key Box will first see use in the Getaround pilot program, due to launch in San Francisco during January 2017. The technology will easily let Toyota make its cars available through other partners or launch its own shared fleet.