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Article, Developers Blog

Patented Technologies:
Laying the Foundation for Digital Key Technology

2020-02-04

The automobile market is undergoing a change from the ”Era of private consumption” to ”Era of public interest.” We have heard about Hyundai AutoEver’s digital key patent technology for easier access to car sharing services.

Executive Director Chang-Ki Sohn, Hyundai AutoEver Mobility Promotion Office

In their fully developed form, technologies can often look deceptively simple because they are streamlined for the convenience of users; the same is true for digital keys. Currently, they require dedicated apps but this will change when AutoEver’s patented digital key technology is popularized. We interviewed Mr. Chang-Ki Sohn, head of the Mobility promotion office to hear more about the patents.

Q. What made AutoEver begin developing digital key technology?

It began about five years ago when I was working to establish a connected service company in the US. The company was set up to sell Hyundai Blue Link and Kia UVO services to rental car companies and fleet operators. Dealing with large fleet operators made me think about how to share the keys of cars equipped with communication modems. There was already digital key technology but it required a dedicated app. I thought about how to make it easier and came up with the new technology. I suggested to Hyundai USA how it could be implemented and held a demonstration session which was well received. I then decided to register the technology for a patent. I filed the application five years ago and it is expected to be approved soon.


Q. It sounds like the digital key will have a significant impact on the car sharing service market.


The car sharing service is growing and more players are likely to participate over time. We are witnessing a transition from an ownership-based car market to a sharing-based one and we need to be prepared. New technologies will be needed. At the moment, Near-field communication (NFC) is commonly used but digital keys are also being used via IT devices for cars equipped with communication modems. “Socar” and ”Greencar” – car sharing companies in South Korea -are key examples. I firmly believe that digital key technology will continue to evolve to make car sharing services easier to use. How exactly it will evolve though is difficult to say.

When you share a digital key, the process must be “simple.”

Q. What did you focus on in applying for patent?

Core quality of our digital key technology is its ”superior simplicity.” Currently, services such as Blue Link are offered via a dedicated app. But how does it work when you are sharing the car with a friend or your family? They must install the Blue Link app, log in, sign up for the service and go through the verification process. Using the new technology, the key is sent via a text message or other messenger apps as a web link. When the user opens the link, a web-based control panel appears allowing the user to open the car door and start the car.


Q. Security can become a serious issue with digital keys sent via text messages.


Security is at the core of the technology. For example, a stranger can get access to your car if your message is sent to the wrong person. We have worked hard to ensure authentication is effective and are constantly working on this to improve it. Continual work is needed as there are as many decryption technologies developed as message encryption technologies developed. Choosing encryption technology was a challenge in itself because I am not an expert in security technologies. We will have to work particularly hard on security before we popularize our digital keys.

A safer and easier digital key will be also required by the global market in the future

Q. What were any other challenges you faced besides security?

I think the biggest challenge was creating a web page that looks like an app. There are apps such as Blue Link but it is possible to make a similar- looking website using HTML. It is actually easier to make a website than an app but it turned out to be quite difficult to make a website that looks like an app. It is easier to do so now, but we needed separate Java script library such as ReactJS to make it work before. This aspect of the project was certainly challenging.


Q. What would be the next step in introducing this technology?

Hyundai has deployed Blue Link, which is currently only available as an app, in many markets. We want to offer our new technology in the markets where Blue Link is already available. We are thinking about creating a service model built around the technology. Our technology may not look very unique because many similar technologies have been developed. But I think we have a chance to dominate the market if we achieve superior safety and convenience.


Q. What kind of changes can we expect in the future when digital key technology is commercialized?

The future is already here in the US. For example, a parcel delivery man is given a digital key to open the door to the recipient’s house via text message. It will also shortly become possible to give a digital key to a valet. Digital keys are only used in very limited situations in South Korea but I think we are getting ready for it. Of course, we need to build a solid security system and convenient user interface before commercialization. If all the pieces fall into place, we might live in a world not just without car keys but without any key at all.