Volvo (NASDAQ: VOLVY) will be the first carmaker to launch a vehicle without a key, said  the company on Thursday in a press release. Since 2017, customers will be able to unlock the doors with a smartphone app and a virtual key that can be shared with other people.

The virtual key will use Bluetooth technology to turn on the car and to open the doors and the boot. Also, customers will be able to have more than one digital key on their app, in order to access different Volvo cars in different locations, said Volvo on Thursday.

Volvo’s new interface is considered the best application thus far of a smooth transition between normal driving and automated driving. Credit: Car Design News

Rental car services were taken into account by Volvo, which says that people will be able to book and pay for a rental car and they will immediately receive a digital key on their smartphones. As a result, customers would locate the car, unlock it and drive it, without making lines at car rental desks.

“At Volvo, we are not interested in technology for the sake of technology. New technology has to make our customers’ lives easier and save them time. Mobility needs are evolving and so are our customers,” said Henrik Green, Vice President Product Strategy & Vehicle Line Management at Volvo Cars.

Customers will be also able to send their digital key to other people, just by using the app. Sharing a vehicle with friends, family or coworkers would be simpler as ever. Mr. Green said that the new digital key has the potential to change how a car can be accessed and shared.

First trials of this new technology will start in spring 2016, via Sunfleet, a car sharing firm stationed at Gothenburg airport in Sweden, said Volvo. Later in 2017, the carmaker will sell a limited number of vehicles equipped with digital keys.

A car key can be shared in many ways. Volvo wants to see how the technology evolves and how it might be used by customers. Martin Rosenqvist, New Car Director, Special Products at Volvo Cars, said that the company is open to new ideas. Security aspects were not detailed in the press release.

A customer might wonder about what happens if a smartphone is stolen. Volvo did not specify which mobile platforms and hardware specs are needed in order to use the Virtual Key app. It would make sense if the app is restricted to users who own smartphones with fingerprint scanners.

“It is a digital key but there is also a digital lock and they need to communicate with each other in the right sequence (the smartphone and the car). Just listening to the phone is not enough,” said Martin Rosenqvist to BBC News.

In 2015, Volvo presented a similar technology that provides a one-time digital key to a delivery company, to allow users have online shopping delivered to their cars. Physical keys will still be available for customers who want them, remarked the Swedish premium car maker. The new digital key will be officially presented at the Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona, at the Ericsson booth.

Source: Volvo