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25 Nov 19

KaaS: the connected tech that’s crucial for sharing cars

OTA Keys was one of the more intriguing finalists for the Fleet Europe Innovation Award 2019, earlier this month in Estoril (Portugal). The company is a leader in Key-as-a-Service – a niche field in connected-vehicle technology that could become crucial for new mobility business models.

You’ve heard of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) and perhaps of LeasePlan’s insistence to label its lease offerings as Cars-as-a-Service (CaaS). Now here’s Keys-as-a-Service. So what is it? 

Technological leap

A car key opens and closes vehicles. KaaS offers ‘vehicle access solutions’. The difference goes deeper than a snappy acronym and some fancy wording. KaaS represents a technological leap, made possible by connected technology. In turn, KaaS supports innovative business models in vehicle leasing, renting and sharing. 

Here’s a quick and easy way to understand it: whenever you hear ‘as a Service’, think ‘cloud computing’. KaaS replaces the physical key for vehicle access with a virtual key, encoded in the cloud. Removing the physical key from driving cars breaks with a tradition that is as old as the car industry itself. However, it makes it much easier to share cars between users – and that’s the crucial bit. 

Aftermarket solution

OTA Keys is entirely owned by German vehicle equipment supplier Continental – which produces 40 million physical keys each year for various OEMs. Via its subsidiary OTAkeys, it is now marketing KaaS, the first mass-produced virtual key system.

KaaS is an aftermarket solution consisting of a plug-and-play hardware bit, easily installed in any car; and a software solution that contains an online platform, which grants users the authority to access and start a car via their smartphone. 

That authority can be easily shared and switched between smartphones, and that makes it a lot easier to share the vehicles themselves. The virtual key also serves as a system for locating the vehicle itself and offers additional connected services. 

Peer to peer

KaaS thus becomes an essential ingredient for easy-to-implement corporate carsharing and makes life a lot easier for both providers and customers of vehicle rental services, and of course other, non-corporate carsharing services.

For example, peer-to-peer carsharing company Turo, which calls itself ‘the Airbnb of cars’, uses KaaS to let users locate and unlock cars right from its own app. By eliminating the need to physically exchange keys, Turo Go – launched last year in Los Angeles, but now also available in San Diego, San Francisco and London – has reduced the lead time between finding and unlocking a car from 60 minutes to five minutes. 

Another example: Avis Budget Group is equipping 25,000 of its rental cars in Europe and an equal number in the U.S. with KaaS technology. The virtual key also turns the car into a ‘connected’ vehicle – and will help the rental company achieve a fully-connected fleet by the end of 2020. 

Honda e

By making it faster and easier to share cars, KaaS can help reduce the cost of mobility for both corporate and private customers – especially when in future incarnations, the application can be pre-installed at assembly by OEMs instead of having to be post-installed by a specialist. 

And that’s not that far into the future: the Honda e, scheduled for delivery across Europe in the summer of 2020, will come with CoSmA (Continental Smart Access) technology built in. Buyers will get both a physical and a virtual key. The latter means that they can remotely lock and unlock their car via their smartphone’s Bluetooth capability. The virtual key can also be shared with others. 

OTA Keys and its parent Continental are among the most advanced players in the KaaS industry; but far from the only ones. Others also provide virtual, smartphone-based ‘vehicle access solutions’. Together, the fledgling KaaS industry will help popularise the shared-mobility solutions of the near future, when your phone is the only key you need to find, book and start rental, shared and pool cars.

Authored by: Frank Jacobs