LG Promises Better Phone Keys But I'm Skeptical

Illustration for article titled LG Promises Better Phone Keys But I'm Skeptical
Screenshot: LG Innotek

LG Innotek has developed a new digital car key module that promises to increase the range and accuracy of digital car keys, and it brings us closer to the car-key-in-your-phone era. At least, in theory.


The company claims its newly developed components will be five times more precise than current components. The module will not only increase the effective range of digital car keys but also reduce the error range from twenty or so inches to four. The new modules boost the accuracy by ditching the Bluetooth Low-Energy protocol and adopting the more robust Ultra Wideband protocol, as we reported on in the case of Apple and Samsung a few weeks back.

Illustration for article titled LG Promises Better Phone Keys But I'm Skeptical
Photo: LG Innotek

The company claims the module is so accurate, it will differentiate between driver and passenger, meaning it will know who is sitting where and will adjust the settings to correspond to the driver. Per LG:

In addition, it can provide a driver with personalized driving environment. When several people use the same car, the module can recognize the smartphone location and set the driver’s seat or side-view mirrors automatically for the corresponding driver. When several people with the same digital car key get on the vehicle, the module can detect the person on the driver’s seat accurately.

This kind of accuracy is hardly necessary in the case of physical car keys, as it’s not common to bring two sets of keys on a drive, but will be very important when our phones become our keys, which LG Innotek predicts could be the case for many as soon as 2025. But if cars have trouble differentiating between driver and passenger it could disrupt the seamless technological utopia that digital keys will usher in.

And that’s the trouble with these technologies. Companies are often aspirational rather than realistic, because a lot of new tech falls short in practical use.


Think of modern car fobs. No, not the few smartphone car keys that companies such as BMW and Apple brag about. Just modern transponder keys. The kind that hides their metallic, physical key inside the fobs and have been around for decades.

Illustration for article titled LG Promises Better Phone Keys But I'm Skeptical
Photo: Getty (Getty Images)

These keys have had ample time to advance and yet even in late model cars I’ve often encountered issues. I can’t count how many times I’ve stood outside a late model Acura waving a key fob frantically at the damn car, only to theorize that maybe my phone is blocking the fob’s signal. Then, I’ll put my phone in one pocket and the key in the other and still no beep, no unlock.

Finally, I’ll do this little dance where I bump either hip to the door handle until the car finally lets me in. Could I be so dense that I’ve never figured out how to get these things to work? Have I reached the age where I’m cursing tech because it’s not as easy as the Jetsons promised? Maybe. I can admit that much.


Or maybe a lot of new keys just suck at being keys. Or they fail to deliver on their promise. I hope that carmakers and OEMs like LG Innotek are taking into account the ways these components can fail. What if my phone dies and the other key-holders aren’t around? Or my phone is stolen? Can we flash keys onto physical objects? I need answers, LG Innotek. Until I have these answers, I’ll remain suspicious of digital car keys.

Staff Writer at Jalopnik. Periodista automotriz, Naturally Aspirated Stan.


Margin Of Error

Problem with improved car access security is that it will just make car theft possibly more violent.

What’s happening right now (for recent cars) is someone gets close to the front door with a repeater, amplifies the key signal and gain access or just put the car on a flatbed and drive it to the port.

What happens next is that police will tell you to call the insurance company, insurance will pay out, which constantly increase the costs of insurance for everyone, police will not do anything because the prejudice is neglectable and manufacturers gets to sell a new car.

Pretty much everyone is happy in that scenario.

Why can’t they just put some Lost or Stolen mode on car components just like on smartphones. Car has been stolen, disable key component remotely, brick the car at next startup, I don’t know their must be a way.

Make the cars harder to re-sell, not necessarily harder to steal.

Older cars are a different story, they are mostly stolen for parts and gets parted out real quick, not sure what can be done at this point, but the problem will go away naturally.