Premium carmaker Mercedes-Benz and Samsung have teamed up to introduce a new digital car key solution at IFA 2016. Samsung describes the technology as highly secure as it features a tamper proof eSE (embedded Secure Element), which is set up by a Mercedes-Benz companion application. The technology allows drivers to unlock and start their cars even when their Samsung handset is switched off, and at the bottom of the article, there is a short YouTube video clip showing how the technology works in the car itself. An embedded Secure Element is a NFC technology designed for sensitive uses, such as payment systems, transport, ticketing, corporate access and cloud computing authentication. In the case of the Mercedes and Samsung car technology, Samsung realized that drivers may need to access their vehicle even if the handset is turned off and eSE technology allows this. The Mercedes-Benz companion application is a means of programming the NFC chip, which the auto-manufacturer will be installing into the door handles of compatible models.
It appears that the Mercedes-Benz / Samsung technology has a number of compromises. As the video demonstrates, NFC is not as immediate as pushing a button on a key as it takes perhaps half a second to be recognized, but this is unlikely to be noticeable. Furthermore, it appears that drivers need to place their handset in a certain area of the car, whereas current keyless car systems will allow the vehicle to be operated when the key is present inside the car. Samsung’s press release on the topic highlights that only certain models of smartphone and car are supported and it is not yet clear what devices will be needed, nor what model cars it will work with. It is also possible that Samsung will include support for the technology into their NFC-equipped Gear smartwatch range although this does not appear to be the case at launch. Mercedes-Benz may also use the technology to customize the driver environment as we see with key sets, so it is possible that the car will recognize a particular handset as belonging to one driver and may adjust the car’s seat, mirrors and other settings to suit.