Young people these days mostly grew up with their cars not even having to insert and turn a key or even having to press buttons to unlock their cars, where just putting a smart key in your pocket can reduce all the hassle.
While most car manufacturers use different names for their smart keys such as iKey, Keyless Entry and Start System, Advanced Key and Smart Key, they’re all actually smart keys that use radio waves to communicate with your car.
This technology was first developed by Siemens back in 1995, then first used in the Mercedes W220 S-Class after Daimler-Benz patented it. Back then people still had to use their keys to unlock their doors and start the engine, then it evolved into remote control keys with immobilisers that used a remote control to lock and unlock the doors, where there is a transponder inside your physical key that was unique to your vehicle, making it harder for people to duplicate your key.
But now smart keys are getting more popular and slowly becoming the standard on new cars. With a smart key, you don’t need to press a button to unlock your car nor turn a physical key to start your engine, where your car can now detect using radio frequencies if you are holding your key near your car to unlock and lock the car, and if your key is inside the car to let you start the engine using a button.
A simple explanation on how they work
There are low frequency antennas inside and outside the car that detect if your smart key is close, and unlocks the door when you pull on the handles. Then some cars have a designated place to put your smart key while in the car, then only it allows you to start the car with a push of a button. Some cars even allow you to start the car with your key anywhere inside the car by comparing the frequencies inside and outside to know if your key is inside or outside the car.
Some people may have concerns that hackers can hijack the radio frequencies to remotely unlock your car, so smart keys now mostly only unlock the doors if the key is very close by, and everytime a frequency is transmitted it is different from the previous.
But since it is a smart key, it relies on a battery to power it, so in the off chance that your smart key runs out of battery, some smart keys have a backup physical key hidden inside that you can use to open the door, while some have a certain place you can hold your key to still gain access and unlock your vehicle.
If you somehow lose your key while the car is running, your car will still continue to run as disabling your car while it’s running is a hazard.
Some vehicles now already have the option of using your smartphone as a key to unlock and start your car, and this may be the norm for cars in the future, where everything can be controlled by your smartphone, and smart keys might also be obsolete in the future.