Smart cars need smart keys, right? And ironically, although these little devices may contain physical keys too, their primary job is to enable you to lock/unlock your car without physically inserting a conventional key into the lock or ignition as was the case in earlier-generation cars.
The keyless entry or passive entry technology was developed by Siemens in the 1990’s but was used only by luxury car manufacturers. Mercedes Benz was the first to adopt it under the trade name “Keyless Go”. Since then, many other automobile companies have implemented this technology, under different names. To cite a few: BMW calls it the Comfort Access, Audi- the Comfort Key, Honda refers to it as the Smart Entry System, Ford prefers the name Intelligent Access and Volkswagen likes to call it KESSY. The names may be different but still it’s a smart key.
How does it work?
A Smart Key is a sophisticated computerized key that uses radio waves to communicate with its associated vehicle via one of the self-embedded antennas. Thus, the car is able to sense the Key, enabling the driver to unlock the car by simply pressing a button on the door handle. The Smart Key system allows car manufacturers to do away with the traditional ignition system. This means that once inside the car, a built-in transponder in the smart key identifies the vehicle, and with a push of the ignition button, your car is automatically activated.
In some advanced versions, the systems can program the last user’s settings in terms of seat and steering wheel position preferences, AC temperature settings and audio volume levels, etc. Other intelligent options also allow you to pre-set a speed limit which could be handy for immature drivers.
Pros and Cons
The obvious plus here is convenience. No longer does the driver have to fumble in his or her pocket or bag in order to get to the keys. Secondly, thanks to the encryption system, it has become harder for thieves to steal your vehicle. The car makers have been careful to ensure that the smart keys broadcast a unique signal each time to unlock a door or remotely pop the trunk. Furthermore, some manufacturers have settings enabling the car system to disable the ignition circuit if an invalid code is detected. Fearful of the fact that these settings too may not completely deter tech-savvy thieves, manufacturers are working overtime to make their systems even more secure.
On the other hand, losing your smart key could be a huge inconvenience especially since most fobs also contain the metal key to unlock the door should the smart key battery malfunction or go low. The cost of replacing a smart key can be quite high since it involves a computerised setup that can be provided only by the automobile company.
The smart key may have a few flaws, but the convenience it affords, as well as the future possibilities to incorporate new features, make it a worthy accomplice for smart driving in the 21st century.