As the population grows and city driving becomes more and more of a problem for car owners and businesses alike, the future of the automotive industry seems to be shaping up to accommodate and rely on self-driving vehicles, which should theoretically lead to higher fuel economy and fewer traffic congestions. However, another big change in the automotive industry could affect non-fully-automated cars, as more car manufacturers entertain the concept of car-sharing services, especially in heavily populated areas where car owners are reported to keep their vehicles parked for over 95% of the time. To this end, Toyota has now unveiled its car-sharing service solution called Smart Key Box, allowing drivers to loan cars using their smartphones.
Car-sharing services seem to become quite popular in urban areas with high population, and more companies are getting on board with this concept, including GM whose Maven car-sharing service announced in January 2016 continues to expand in new markets. Toyota has gained an interest in the car-sharing market as well, and after it announced its partnership with Getaround for a pilot project last week, the Japanese company has now unveiled its Smart Key Box solution. The Smart Key Box is a device which "can be placed in a vehicle without modification" according to Toyota, enabling door lock access and engine start. The device is connected to Toyota's cloud-based Mobility Service Platform, and communicates with a smartphone application which can be used by drivers to loan cars, set schedules and handle payments in-app. Drivers can unlock their loaned cars using their smartphones while in Bluetooth range, as the system shares an encrypted code in order to securely give access to the vehicle and push-button ignition. The said encrypted code will be valid only for the duration of the loan, but users will presumably be able to extend their loan if needed. Either way, the system should give car sharing service companies the proper tools for easily managing their shared fleet among customers.
Toyota will first make use of the Smart Key Box system in January 2017 in San Francisco through the Getaround pilot program announced last week, and the technology will likely become available to other partners once testing is complete. Furthermore, the Smart Key Box could also allow Toyota to launch its own car-sharing service, but this has yet to be confirmed by the automotive giant.