BMW Executive Dreams of a Keyless Car Future

Even though it seemed like the least innovation-prone aspect of a car, the keys have evolved considerably over the past few decades. Originally used just to access the car, they were soon used for starting the engine as well, once cranking was replaced by electric starters.
BMW 7 Series key fob 1 photo
Photo: YouTube screenshot
Right now, what we refer to as "car keys" is actually just a tiny short-range radio transmitter that unlocks the doors from afar and disarms the vehicle's immobilizer, allowing the engine to start. If you know the secret combination of squeezing, pushing, and pulling, you might be able to open the fob up and find the actual key within. But that's used strictly for emergency situations where the car has run out of battery and such.

In the future, though, a vehicle will never run completely out of battery since it'll be all-electric. The large battery pack on-board can have a tiny reserve that would keep the low-consumption device communicating with the fob running virtually indefinitely.

That means the mechanical way of getting into the car will become redundant, and with it, so would the entire key fob we use these days. Whether we're talking about the car-shaped one from Tesla, the flat card-like one from Renault or, indeed, the one for the BMW i8 (and 7 Series) featuring a small touchscreen display, they will all be left behind and replaced by a smartphone.

At least that's what Ian Robertson, the BMW board member responsible for sales seems to think. “Honestly, how many people really need it,” he asked rhetorically while in Frankfurt, quoted by Automotive News.

“They never take it out of their pocket, so why do I need to carry it around?” he went on, suggesting BMW might be working on ways to leave the fob out of the equation. “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.”

is currently experimenting something very similar with its app, while even BMW offers the option to lock and unlock your car remotely via a proprietary app, transforming the vehicle into a perfect drop-off point. Need your friend to pick something up the next day, but you're leaving on a holiday in an hour? Have him phone you while sitting next to your car, unlock it with the press of a virtual button and then lock it back up. It's as simple as that.

The fact most of us still use keys for the door to our house isn't a good omen for those wishing to get rid of the car key fob, but somehow you do feel like it's going to happen sooner or later. After all, we are talking about autonomous cars and ride sharing: it's not like you'll be walking around with the keys to all of the cars owned by Uber or whoever will be providing the service.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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