Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige News - John Carey

MERCEDES-BENZ lock­ing sys­tem engi­neer San­ti­ago Pena Brossa touches his HTC smart­phone gen­tly against the door han­dle of the E-Class.

The cam­ou­flage-cov­ered sedan’s in­di­ca­tors blink and its rear-view mir­rors swing out. It’s open … but not ready to drive.

This car is still nine months or so from go­ing into pro­duc­tion. Which ex­plains why this pro­to­type’s ex­te­rior is cov­ered in an eye-baf­fling black-and-white pat­tern and its in­te­rior is hid­den un­der rough-cut bits of what looks like black car­pet.

While the vi­su­als will re­main un­der wraps for some time yet, Mercedes-Benz is ready to talk about some of the new E-Class’s in­ner­most tech­ni­cal se­crets.

It’s a glimpse into the notso-dis­tant fu­ture of driv­ing, be­cause where MercedesBenz goes, oth­ers in­evitably will fol­low.

The day the new E-Class goes on sale will be the be­gin­ning of the end for the con­ven­tional car key, it seems. In time it will go the way of the video­tape, floppy disk and CD.

Pena Barossa prom­ises Mercedes-Benz will be the first to in­tro­duce the smart­phone car key to mar­ket.

The fea­ture will be of­fered first as an op­tion on the new E-Class, then spread to other mod­els from the Ger­man car­maker.

The sys­tem re­lies on Near Field Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, a ra­dio tech­nol­ogy built into newer smart­phones and al­ready in use in some coun­tries by Visa and MasterCard for con­tact­less pay­ments. The abil­ity to se­curely store en­crypted data, ei­ther in the phone it­self or its SIM card, is also re­quired.

Ac­cord­ing to Pena Brossa, the Mercedes Me web­site will of­fer a fa­cil­ity for cus­tomers to check whether their smart­phone can be used as a key. At first it will be pos­si­ble to in­stall only four “keys” on a phone, but the next step will per­mit any num­ber. Per­fect for car rental com­pa­nies, says Pena Brossa.

There are some ob­vi­ous down­sides. A dead phone will mean not be­ing able to get into your car. “You have a big prob­lem,” ad­mits Pena Brossa, who points out that mod­ern car keys are also use­less when dam­aged.

Then there’s the af­fec­tion many feel for the good, old­fash­ioned car key. “The tra­di­tional cus­tomers, they love it,” says the engi­neer.

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