Leveraging NFC technology to turn smartphones into keys is an idea that's gaining ground, not just for home access but for cars as well. With this and more in mind, automotive supplier Continental has begun testing a smartphone app enabling real-time centralized control for access to, and charging of, electric vehicle fleets. The system is aimed squarely at the fast-growing consumer segment of member-based car-sharing schemes, as well as corporate and government electric car fleets. Continental’s system revolves around a smartphone app and an NFC-based "digital key" that sends an encrypted data record to specific smartphones when the vehicle is about to be used. Stored on the phone’s SIM card, this record verifies the new driver, provides access authorization and allows the engine to be started when the phone is held few centimeters from the NFC receiver integrated into the windshield. Depending on how it is coded, the smartphone app could retrieve further data on the condition of the vehicle, before switching to a convenient navigation system. The same principles allow users to reserve a charging station time slot by cell phone app, identify themselves with their cell phone via NFC, and initiate the charging process. Since the technology fully decentralizes key access, the system has the potential to eliminate lines at rental companies, time-wasting person-to-person exchanges and confusing key drops. Such a process put in place by existing rental fleets would help eliminate storefront rental businesses, and slash vast amounts of overhead while streamlining customer access. With no human contact required, the possibility of spontaneous rental and 24-hour access to get behind the wheel, this type of technology could even unseat the time-tested process of standing in the rain waiving at bright yellow cars as the most convenient way to get a ride.
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