Bosch's tech replaces smartphone as secured digital key for vehicles

by Autocar Pro News Desk , 19 Dec 2018


It takes less than five seconds for a hacker to compromise a standard keyless vehicle entry system says Bosch, which is referred among experts as a relay station attack. The Germany technology company claims its key app is going to change all that.

“Our 'Perfectly Keyless' system revolutionises keyless entry systems. It is the key to preventing digital car theft,” said Harald Kroger, president of the Bosch Automotive Electronics division.

The company says the unique proposition about its solution is that the technology works with a virtual key stored in the smartphone. The sensors installed in the car recognise the owner’s smartphone as securely as a fingerprint and opens the vehicle only for them. The digital key management links the app and the vehicle via the cloud, and with Perfectly Keyless, Bosch claims it is thus doing something that no other keyless entry system has done before, namely offering both convenience and security.

The new smartphone-based key can be used in cars, entire car-sharing fleets, and commercial vehicles. The company believes this system with its built-in security lock has huge market potential globally. As with conventional keyless entry systems, the car key still needs to be carried in a jacket or suit pocket, for example. To open the door and start the engine, it communicates with the car using a radio signal in the low frequency (LF) or ultra high frequency (UHF) range.

Instead of transmitting data via low- or high-frequency radio technology, the Bosch system uses the smartphone as virtual key and bluetooth as the transmission technology, which allows the car key to stay at home. Bosch says thanks to its experience in semiconductor business it is in a position to make this connection as secure as a fingerprint. Every smartphone contains tiny microchips to manage communication via bluetooth, and these play a key role in the solution. Together with sensors installed in the vehicle and a special control unit, they form a system that opens the door only for the smartphone containing the virtual key that fits in the keyless system’s digital lock. The system blocks signals from other smartphones or from electronic devices that manipulate the radio transmission.

Smartphone to enable car-sharing
The company says virtual vehicle keys on smartphones have long been a feature of car-sharing fleets. These vehicles don’t move until their operator authorises entry via the cloud; only then can a user unlock the vehicle, start it, and lock it again using an app. This conversation between the phone and the vehicle uses Near-Field Communication (NFC), a wireless protocol for sharing data over distances of a few centimetres. For this to work, users must take out their smartphone before each journey and hold it up to a marked area on the vehicle. Only then can the system recognise the user and unlock the doors.

Use smartphone to unlock and start vehicle

With the new technology from Bosch, the smartphone can also stay in its pocket, this would means further ease the use for drivers, and carsharing users will benefit from the added convenience. The solution also works in trucks and for entire fleets of commercial vehicles. That would effectively translate towards no more manual administration of vehicle keys, physical handover, or hassle when a key is lost or stolen. If the smartphone is lost or stolen, and the Perfectly Keyless app with it, the digital key can be simply deactivated online, thus blocking access to the vehicle.