The recent announcement by Volvo to phase out gas-only car production by 2019, at which time all new Volvos will either be fully electric or electric hybrids, makes it the first automaker to commit to using only alternative drive trains. This announcement is just one of many changes taking place in today’s automotive industry. Innovative software apps that allow drivers to remotely start a car or monitor the battery, facilitate vehicle diagnostics and repairs through network links, and allow vehicle-to-vehicle communications that let cars on the road talk to each other are just a few examples of changes in new model vehicles.
These and other intelligent technologies are also changing the driving experience enabling functions such as self-braking, self-parking, automatic cruise control based on road conditions, automatic accident-avoidance features and many other functions to be automatically performed without control by the driver. Convenience is a major influencer in the evolution of many of these changes – including changes to the common key fob.
For decades, the standard metal key has been used to open car doors and start the engine. Transponder keys, which are chips in the key fob that communicate with the vehicle’s computer to start the ignition, were the first change to the standard metal key, followed by keyless entry in the late 20th century and keyless push button ignition a short while thereafter. Now, instead of being just a physical device to open the door and start the car, key fobs are an intelligent and interactive device that add to the convenience of the driving experience.
What started out as a one-dimensional tool has evolved into an appliance that can remotely start the car, control the interior climate system and check the charging status on hybrid vehicles – all from an LCD touchscreen on the front of the fob. It’s not even necessary for the key fob to leave the driver’s pocket. The system detects the proximity of the key and, upon touching the door handle, unlocks the door. Once in the car, the key fob can stay in a pocket; the car can be started by depressing the brake pedal and pushing the Start button.
Intelligent key fobs are also working hand-in-hand with smart phone technology. As an example, at car rental agencies the customer uses their smart phone with a pre-downloaded temporary app to scan a bar code on the vehicle’s windshield. This unlocks the doors and trunk; to start the car, the driver uses the key fob stored in the center console.
Because of its high value and operational importance, securing and tracking key fobs with an automated key control and management system is crucial for applications such as automobile dealerships, fleet operations, motor pools and so on. In fleet operations for instance, management is always responsible for ensuring that all assets are fully utilized; problems are addressed and resolved quickly in order to maintain a smooth operation; and unauthorized use of company assets is controlled. Finding information quickly and scaling to meet growth demands are additional challenges along with managing all the data that a fleet operation can generate.
Automated key control and management systems can help the fleet manager achieve many of these objectives. Keys can only be accessed by authorized individuals with a proper code, badge or biometric identification. Access to the key cabinet and to individual keys is under the complete control of fleet management and the system provides full accountability for who has which key, and which vehicle, at any time. For added efficiency, keys for specific fleet groups can be color-grouped for easier identification.
While cars, and the keys that control them, have become more sophisticated, the need to keep them secure has continued to be a primary necessity for drivers and dealers.