Continental, D'Ieteren launch JV for virtual car keys

March 12, 2015 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
The growing popularity of car sharing services has created the need for innovative forms of car access right management. To meet this demand an create secure virtual car keys, automotive supplier Continental has launched a joint venture with Belgian automotive services provider D'Ieteren. The JV's bears a telling name: OTA keys, with OTA being the acronym for "over-the-air".

The largest activity of the Brussels-based joint venture is virtual car keys that can be transferred via mobile radio network to the smartphone of the authorised user. The technology can be used for company car fleets, car sharing providers and car rental companies.

The centrepiece of the OTA car keys is the virtual smartphone key. The handset exchanges data with the vehicles by means of Near Field Communications (NFC) or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). The driver uses an app on his smartphone to book the required vehicle at his convenience. The OTA keys system then sends an encrypted and forgery-proof data set to the cellphone which serves as proof of authorisation to access the desired vehicle. The virtual key is stored on the smartphone's SIM card. The smartphone transmits authentication, vehicle and diagnostic data as well as user profile to the car, using NFC or BLE. The vehicle is equipped with a reader unit which can be located in the door or behind the windshield. The reader forwards the data to a control unit inside the vehicle which verifies the virtual car key before it opens the doors and allows the user to start the engine.

The new JV, OTA keys, develops and provides the necessary digital infrastructure. This includes an app for the customer's smartphone. The app is made by measure to the specifications of the respective car sharing operator or rental services provider. Its functionality includes identifying, selecting and renting the vehicle as well as navigating the user to the place where the vehicle is parked.

Before starting this offer to the public, Continental said it successfully tested the virtual key in a pilot project in Toulouse as well as in a car sharing fleet in Monaco.

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