Automakers Interested in NFC, Though Still Mainly Test Driving the Technology
Automakers BMW and Hyundai both recently announced plans to incorporate NFC functionality into their vehicles.
German automaker BMW has announced availability of its “BMW Car Hotspot LTE,” while South Korea's Hyundai demonstrated a prototype of its “Connectivity Concept” that includes NFC, with plans for a market launch of the technology in 2015.
The announcements could signal the beginning of uptake of NFC by the automotive industry, though most projects remain in the prototype stage.
For example, at the Paris Motor Show last fall, telco France Telecom-Orange demonstrated use of NFC-enabled Samsung Galaxy smartphones for entry to an Opel Ampera, with the encrypted keys sent to the phones via SMS. Users tap their phones on an NFC chip on the car’s windshield to unlock the car. The system is targeted mainly at enterprise fleet managers and rental agencies, allowing them to avoid passing around physical keys. Orange Labs and French engineering firm ADM-Concept developed the system, though NFC-enabled car keys have been demonstrated before.
The developments follow the formation of the Car Connectivity Consortium in 2011, which seeks to accelerate the connection of mobile devices with in-car systems.
Both Hyundai and BMW are members of the consortium, which is building what it calls the MirrorLink standard, using Bluetooth, NFC, USB and Internet protocols. It includes all major carmakers, as well as a number of technology suppliers.
Hyundai demonstrated its mobile data syncing system prototype in Frankfurt, Germany, on Dec. 21. An NFC tag in the car door lets drivers tap with an NFC-enabled smartphone to unlock the vehicle. Placing the same mobile device in the car’s center console synchronizes music collections and radio station preferences, phone contacts, certain applications like navigation and other information to the car’s dashboard touchscreen. The connectivity likely relies on Bluetooth, and there was no mention of whether it uses NFC to set up the Bluetooth connection.
Hyundai's Connectivity Concept is expected to use chips from Broadcom, since the two companies previously announced an agreement to jointly develop other in-car NFC functionality.
BMW said its in-car wireless router can enable access for up to eight mobile devices. Its hotspot is on the market as an option. The accessory plugs into the telephone docking station in BMW vehicles for power, and it uses the vehicle’s aerial for LTE access or other wireless access where LTE is unavailable. In other vehicles, an adapter allows the accessory to plug into the car’s cigarette lighter for power.
BMW said its in-car hotspot option is the first use of NFC on the road. Passengers can tap it to establish a Wi-Fi connection. Without an NFC-capable device, users must enter an 8-digit PIN to connect their devices to Wi-Fi or press a button on the hotspot accessory to open a wireless protect setup connection to a device within a 3-meter range. In either case, setup would take longer than using NFC, according to the carmaker.
NFC industry suppliers have long shown interest in automotive applications for NFC, including large NFC chip maker NXP Semiconductors.
In June of 2011, NXP announced its NCF2970 KEyLink Lite chip, intended for use in NFC enabled smart car keys. According to NXP, such smart keys would allow drivers to tap the key with a smartphone to access car data, such as service histories, diagnostic information for mechanical problems, the amount of fuel remaining, and the car’s GPS coordinates.