Manufacturing, Small Business & Startups, and Technology

Holland startup looks to replace keys

InfiniteKey is working with automakers to place the technology.

December 16, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Losing a set of keys might soon be a thing of the past, as long as phones remain in pockets.

InfiniteKey, a Holland startup and spin off of software company SpinDance, is using micro-location technology to help phones function as a key for locks. InfiniteKey already is working with an undisclosed car manufacturer with hopes to deliver the technology to the market within the next 12 months, said Kevin Virta, the company’s CEO.

Virta said the conversations with automakers has been an uphill battle, as SpinDance went to several companies a few years ago with a prototype and received mixed reviews.

“Now, they’re coming back and looking at it and saying, ‘Now we see what you saw a few years ago,’” Virta said. “Millennials will expect this functionality, because a phone is a very personal device to them and is always with them. It’s an extension of who they are.”

To help specialize in the micro-location technology, SpinDance announced the formation of InfiniteKey in October.

“To fully develop and commercialize micro-location technology requires a great deal of focus and dedicated resources,” SpinDance President Mike Ellis said.

Micro-location is a form of technology developed to be more accurate than global positioning systems and uses sensors to locate items within a room. It currently is largely used in retail marketing to push out product-specific marketing when a customer is in front of a product. The technology also can be used for indoor navigation in settings such as museums.

Most of the current uses, however, have a 3-to-5-foot accuracy range, a tad too large for use as a key and lock, Virta said. InfiniteKey technology is accurate to within a matter of inches, so it can replicate the function of a passive vehicle key, which allows a user to unlock and start a car without taking it out of their pocket.

The passive key technology uses antennas placed around a vehicle to sense the key.

“We started looking at this thinking a phone could be a key for a lot of things, just like it can be a wallet now,” Virta said of software such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet. “Forever, it’s been wallet and keys, that’s what you left the house with. Now, it’s keys, wallet and phone. As we evolve and you’re no longer going to need a wallet, why even bring your keys?”

Along with the changing technology, Virta said younger generations might come to a point in time when cars aren’t under sole ownership and car sharing is more prevalent. To help increase ease of use in car sharing, he said key transfers need to be efficient and seamless, which makes an app approval appropriate, he said.

To make a phone function as a car key, InfiniteKey engineers first had to find a technology ubiquitous to phones, as the company can’t ask phone companies to build in a specific technology. InfiniteKey is using Bluetooth Low Energy technologies, similar to how phones connect to a car’s speakers.

The automakers, or lock manufacturers, must then build in the technology to facilitate the micro-location technology, just as they have with Bluetooth connectivity, which allows phones to connect to the car through several sensors scattered throughout the vehicle.

As in current Bluetooth uses, each key has its own authorization to work as a key and is authorized by a vehicle owner on their phone. Virta said phone approvals can be one-time, time-bound or unlimited. The technology might become especially useful to assure driverless rideshare cars and taxis the correct passenger has entered the vehicle or to function as a lockbox substitute for home showings or Airbnb rentals.

“My wife and I could have keys for the other’s car with no restrictions,” Virta said. “But because of the technology and computer power on the phone, there’s all sorts of ways to grant and restrict access.”

Along with officially working with one manufacturer, Virta said the company is responding to several RFQs for the technology. He also said there are several other companies working on micro-location lock technology, which he views as a good thing.

The car or lock company buys the license to use the product, and the user who purchases the product then has the license to use the product through an app on the phone.

“We want to work with every automaker, but we’re realistic and don’t expect to end up on every vehicle,” he said. “Still, we have a good shot to capture a good market.”

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