First introduced in 2010, Bluetooth® Low Energy (LE) gave developers all over the world new opportunities for data transmission innovation. Supporting multiple communication topologies and enabling devices to determine the presence, distance, and, soon, direction of other devices, Bluetooth LE is the natural choice for developers like TOKAI RIKA as they create new access control solutions.

I recently spoke with the team at TOKAI RIKA about how they use Bluetooth LE to meet the ever-growing demand for secure, convenient digital key solutions for vehicles.

Q&A With the TOKAI RIKA Team

Why did you choose Bluetooth technology for your TOKAI RIKA Digitalkey® solution?

We have been involved in the development of digital key solutions for over ten years, starting with the creation of technologies and systems that use mobile terminals as vehicle keys. In the process, we faced two major obstacles in practical application: the high power consumption of in-vehicle equipment and long connection times between in-vehicle equipment and mobile terminals. Bluetooth® Classic and Wi-Fi systems available at the time were not created to meet the required levels because vehicle electronic key systems require a high degree of convenience, such as immediate operation times and low power consumption – a must for our digital key solutions. Bluetooth LE was the solution to these problems.

From first development to present day, we have long been aware that Bluetooth technology is the only wireless communication standard that satisfies our high expectations for power consumption requirements, functionality, performance, and security. We are also interested in the advancements Bluetooth technology is making to its positioning capabilities, including the AoA/AoD positioning feature recently introduced as well as the upcoming high accuracy distance measurement feature that is currently in development. We are also considering the potential of a Bluetooth + UWB solution for use cases and applications that may require more refined location identification.

“Bluetooth® technology will continue to be an indispensable solution for not only digital key services but also for wireless communication devices installed in connected cars.”

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Can you provide an example of a successful application for this solution?

Our smart device FREEKEY Box for cars and our FREEKEY Company Car Reservation service, launched in April of this year, are currently being used by several organizations.

The FREEKEY Box stores a car’s physical key inside a box that enables the user to lock and unlock the car door via their smartphone.

Since the car keys can be handed over without any in-person interactions, the system is ideal for car sharing between individuals and the sharing of company cars between multiple drivers. Our digital key system is designed for a variety of scenarios and can be used in places where radio waves from a base station cannot reach, such as indoor or underground parking lots. Bluetooth LE has made a significant contribution to the realization of this mechanism, despite difficult challenges, guaranteeing security and maintaining connectivity, operability, and convenience.

FREEKEY Box can be used in a variety of B2C and C2C applications because it does not require a direct connection to the vehicle or face-to-face handover of a physical key, allowing users to lend or borrow shared vehicles at locations of their choosing. Conventional car sharing systems require the development of equipment for each car manufacturer and each car model, making it difficult to support services with multiple car models.

The service does not require IC cards or any device other than a smartphone, which means flexible service development and operation, convenience for overseas travelers and easy-to-follow procedures.

What are the advantages of using smartphones for digital key solutions?

We intend to digitize the various keys used in daily life and promote the use of digital keys for other mobilities, parking lots, offices, and other buildings with the aim of realizing a secure, convenient, user-friendly solution.

Smartphones will have a leading role in various Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and IoT/IT services for some time to come and will be essential devices in the ever-expanding market of digital key solutions. We intend to continue focusing on the development of new solutions that utilize the next-generation standards of Bluetooth® technology, the 5G/6G evolution, Wi-Fi, and more.

What role do you see Bluetooth technology playing in the future of digital key and automotive technology?

With its high degree of conformity to the technical requirements of devices for MaaS/IoT services and 100 percent installation rate in smartphones, which play a leading role in these services, Bluetooth® technology will continue to be an indispensable solution for not only digital key services but also for wireless communication devices installed in connected cars.

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