Are we soon going to be able to do everything via smartphone? Reserving and unlocking electric vehicles and hooking them up to the charging station through our smartphone is on the way.

Automotive supplier Continental is working on easing the use of carsharing vehicles by means of a new key technology: a digital car key wirelessly installed in a smartphone together with a special utility program for cell phones.

The company believes this could revolutionize the spontaneous rental of cars.

Together with Veolia, EVTRONIC, Mercur, and Proxiway, Continental has now started a field test in Bordeaux with a fleet consisting of electric vehicles.

The goal is to create an electric vehicle fleet, which different small and medium enterprises could operate in carsharing. The users gain access to the vehicle by Smartphone and, in addition, they can reserve quick charging stations via the cell phone app.

As technology partner in the project, Continental is launching a complete carsharing solution, including the smartphone car key, the in-car electronics, and the fleet management.

“The smartphone offers users of the electric vehicle fleet in Bordeaux everything from a single source: the car hire station, the car key, and the charging station. The technology provided by Continental for the digital key makes the system particularly convenient, easy, and flexible for operators and users,” explains Andreas Wolf, head of Continental’s Body & Security business unit.

The heart of the car sharing system is Continental’s digital key, which exchanges data with the vehicle using near field communication (NFC).

Continental sends an encrypted forgery-proof data record to the cell phone each time a vehicle is about to be used. Stored on the SIM card, the record contains access authorization for the respective vehicle.

By means of NFC technology, the cell phone transmits the data (authentication, vehicle and diagnosis data, and user profile) across a distance of a few centimeters to an NFC reader integrated into the vehicle windshield. The NFC reader recipient verifies not only access to the vehicle but also permission to start the engine.

The main advantage of using a cell phone as car key is flexibility. Users can rent vehicles on the spur of the moment and easily load the key data onto their cell phone.

“New mobility concepts are becoming increasingly important throughout the world. Our safeguarded end-to-end systems approaches for conveniently accessing and starting a vehicle via smartphone make an important contribution to this trend. Our technology facilitates cost-efficient solutions that users can operate intuitively and easily,” says Wolf.

A special app for smartphones makes it possible to rent a vehicle from the carsharing fleet. The user can use the utility program to find, select, and reserve vehicles in the city region.

The smartphone can even navigate the user to the car’s location.

It’s even possible to rent a vehicle spontaneously: As soon as the user holds his or her cell phone against an available car, a digital key is generated and sent to the smartphone once an availability check has been carried out on the server.

The digital key unlocks the car and, depending on how it is programmed, the app retrieves further data on the condition of the vehicle, before switching to a convenient navigation system.

The same principles allow users to reserve a charging station time slot by cell phone app, identify themselves with their cell phone via NFC, and initiate the quick charging process.