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Volvo's digital keys let delivery drivers make drop offs in your car

Justin Hyde
February 20, 2014

The buzz around making vehicles always-on Internet hubs has long seemed like a solution in search of a problem. Why does your dashboard need its own apps, mobile operating system and audio/video streaming software when most smartphones can do the same jobs better? (Or display ads?) And what good is a system like General Motors' OnStar if you only use it in emergencies?

Thanks to Volvo, we now have an idea of one task such technology seems perfect for: Letting UPS, FedEx and your local pizza delivery guy use your car as a shipping address.

Set to be unveiled later this month at the mobile tech industry's global convention in Barcelona, Volvo calls its system "digital keys." Under the concept, shoppers would designate their car as the eventual destination when they ordered their Thai food or camo-print Snuggie. A smartphone app would alert them to the arrival and departure of the delivery person, who would have their own car-tracking app and a code that allows for a one-time access to the customer's Volvo. Once it's used, the digital key disappears.

This isn't a lab-only idea; Volvo tested the system with 100 volunteers, and 92 of them said the service was more convenient than having goods shipped to their houses. "By turning the car into a pickup and drop-off zone through digital keys, we solved a lot of problems delivering goods to people, not places," said Klas Bendrik, Volvo Car Group's chief information officer.

And Volvo may be onto something. Front porches and apartment lobbies aren't exactly secure places for packages, and delivery firms waste millions of dollars a year when they can't find a recipient. The idea that a car could be unlocked remotely or automatically call for help after a crash seemed odd when first deployed, but has become accepted, even expected, in new models. In-dash Infotainment is nice, but when it comes to justifying new technology, it's no hot pizza.