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EVs & Mobility

This article was published on December 7, 2021

Android you can start my car: BMW’s new connected car capabilities

Mobile-to-car tech just got more interesting thanks to Ultra Wideband

Android you can start my car: BMW’s new connected car capabilities
Cate Lawrence
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Cate Lawrence

Cate Lawrence is an Australian tech journo living in Berlin. She focuses on all things mobility: ebikes, autonomous vehicles, VTOL, smart ci Cate Lawrence is an Australian tech journo living in Berlin. She focuses on all things mobility: ebikes, autonomous vehicles, VTOL, smart cities, and the future of alternative energy sources like electric batteries, solar, and hydrogen.

Earlier this month, we saw Android issue an important update. The update enables Android users to use their mobile to lock, unlock, and even start a compatible car. The most interesting factor is the use of Ultra Wideband technology. 

In reality, we’ve been able to start our cars remotely using products like Viper’s Smart Start since 2009. Apple tech could lock, unlock and start your car with an iPhone or Apple Watch using NFC since 2020. Teslas have had these capabilities (with various degrees of success) since 2017. 

The Car Connectivity Consortium ushers in Ultra Wideband technology

The most significant evolution in the space has been thanks to The Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), a cross-industry collaboration in developing global standards and solutions for smartphone and in-vehicle connectivity. 

In July, the CCC released Digital Key 3.0. This standardized ecosystem enables mobile devices to store, authenticate, and share Digital Keys for vehicles in a seamless, secure, and privacy-preserving way. Specifically, release 3.0 adds hands-free, location-aware keyless access and location-aware features.

This is achieved by combining Ultra Wideband (UWB) technology and Bluetooth Low Energy. Support for NFC technology ensures backward compatibility and battery-low mode.

The next best thing to Bluetooth and NFC is poised to do big things

The big deal here is the Ultra Wideband tech. While NFC typically requires you to get close to your car in a range of inches, the UWB makes it possible to connect from distances of three meters or more. However, UWB lets you perform the same functions from a much longer distance (upwards of 10 feet or more). This makes it possible to start your car without even taking your phone out of your pocket.

Supplier of chips to Samsung, NXP, first started implementing UWB tech into their chips in 2020. The company notes that UWB delivers greater accuracy in line-of-site and strong localization in non-line-of-sight scenarios — and is capable of managing environments in which numerous walls, people, and other obstacles would typically block these signals.

This sets the scene for a great range of use cases in the near few years, but…

We’ve still got a long way to go before roll-out

However, it’s been available in iPhones since version 11 in 2019.
At present, only a handful of Android phones have support for UWB, while iPhones have had it  since version 11 in 2019.

In the case of Android, it only works with Samsung Galaxy S21, Google Pixel 6, and Pixel 6 Pro. Android is beginning its partnership with BMW, although as Android Auto is available in over 60 brands and 500 models, we can expect this capability to go mainstream. 

BMW digital key
BMW digital key with ultra wideband capabilities.

The BMW Digital Key can also start the engine by placing your mobile in the BMW wireless charging compartment. In the next release, it will be possible to pass the key on to five friends.

According to BMW, “It can be easily configured via My BMW app and is then available as an option for almost all BMW models.”

IoT technology is not without its pain points, especially regarding security, interoperability, and reliability. But Android is bringing the mobile and auto worlds just a little bit closer. This is just the beginning.

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