Apple’s Car Key feature slated to add U1 Ultra Wideband support this year

At WWDC last year, Apple introduced a new Car Key feature as part of iOS 13.6. The feature allows drivers to replace their physical car keys with their iPhone. An update to the Digital Key Release specification coming later this year will add support for Ultra Wideband and Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity…

The new update was announced today by the Car Connectivity Consortium, of which Apple is a member. The Digital Key 3.0 specification will be made available to Apple and other members of the consortium by the middle of this year.

For Apple, this means that it will be able to upgrade the Car Key feature with support for the Ultra Wideband U1 chip that’s in devices like the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12. The Car Connectivity Consortium touts that this will allow the devices to perform “secure and accurate” distance measurements to unlock the user’s car.

Digital Key Release 3.0 addresses security and usability by authenticating the Digital Key between a vehicle and the mobile device over Bluetooth Low Energy and then establishing a secure ranging session with UWB, which allows the vehicle to perform secure and accurate distance measurement to localize the mobile device.

Mobile devices create and store the Digital Keys in Secure Elements that provide the highest level of protection against hardware or software-based attacks. The UWB exchange also generates critical cryptographic parameters in the Secure Elements to ensure the highest security in localizing the device to the vehicle and thereby authorize the user to access and drive the vehicle.

More details remain unclear, this is a notable update to the technology, and it puts Apple’s U1 chip to use. The CCC also points out that this “new specification will enable consumers to use their mobile device as a digital key hands-free.” BMW had previously announced plans to integrate Ultra Wideband support into its Digital Key Plus platform beginning in Europe later this year.

As we wait on the full release of the Digital Key 3.0 specification, and Apple’s subsequent updates to Car Key, you can learn more about how the current version of Car Key works in our detailed guide right here.

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