Volvo prepares to say goodbye to physical car keys

Volvo S90

Volvo plans to ship vehicles in 2017 without physical keys. Instead, Volvo wants to replace the old key and key fob with an app that stores unique digital keys.

While some automakers offer the ability to lock, unlock and remote start cars using an app and subscription service, these features require the car to have an always-on cellular connection. There's also a delay from when you issue a command before the car gets it.

The Volvo app will not have these shortcomings. Instead of cellular connectivity, which is also available, the Volvo app relies on Bluetooth connectivity when the phone is near the car.

When you approach the car, your smartphone should automatically pair with the car, if you have the right digital key stored, making locking, unlocking and engine start functions accessible.

Volvo S90

If you loan your car to friends or family, the Volvo app lets you instantly share a digital key so you don't have to meet with them to hand off the keys. This could also make things easier for company vehicles shared by multiple people, especially if it's a work truck and everyone gets a company issued rugged Caterpillar S60 to match.

Volvo plans to offer the digital key technology as a limited test run via car sharing service Sunfleet, exclusively at the Gothenburg airport in Sweden this spring.

Sunfleet isn't the first pilot run of Volvo's digital key technology, however. The company offered in-car deliveries for holiday shopping in Gothenburg, Sweden, which relied on the digital key technology to gain access to Volvo's.

Volvo app

Volvo doesn't want to confirm which vehicles will ship without physical keys, but says the Sunfleet pilot program will feature a mix of old and new models. The press images supplied by Volvo show the latest XC90 and S90, so expect those two gorgeous Swedes to get the technology.

I find the technology really cool and would love to never have to use physical keys ever again, but there's the issue of battery life. There are days where my phone just sits on my desk, which has plenty of charge to go through the day, but there are days where I'm on my phone non-stop with emails or playing Final Fantasy IX.

The potential of being locked out of your car because your phone is dead, so you have to ask for a charge, seems silly to me. I wouldn't be opposed to having the option to use a digital key if I wanted, but shipping a car without a physical key can present problems.

I'm not sure how Volvo expects drivers of digital key cars to valet their cars without a physical key. I feel like asking the Valet to download an app on their phone, then send them a physical key is too much hassle, instead of leaving the keys in the car and getting out.

Volvo is demoing the digital key technology at Mobile World Congress 2016 at the Ericsson booth. Expect the technology to be available for the masses in 2017, for Android and iOS, sorry, Windows Phone users, there's no love from the Swedes for you.