For Denso and Lambda:4, an avalanche rescue site looks a lot like a crowded parking lot.
While the life-and-death stakes are obviously different, the technology that allows rescue workers to locate people trapped under heaps of snow can also be used to securely identify someone’s smartphone in a crowd.
This capability is one reason Denso recently invested in Lambda:4, a German company that initially was focused on using 2.4 GHz-band wireless ranging and positioning technologies to make avalanche and other search-and-rescue systems better and safer.
As Lambda:4's technologies evolved, the company realized they could be used in the automotive and logistics industries as well. And Denso was paying attention.
Denso’s interests lie in Lambda:4’s enhanced passive digital key technology. Denso started working on passive digital keys in 2012 and, in 2017, Denso acquired Michigan-based InfiniteKey, another keyless technology company with a mission to replace key fobs with smartphones.
“When we look at the future of how people interact with their vehicles, it’s clear that the mass adoption of smartphone technology over the last 5-10 years around the world clearly points to a different way for how customers will be able to interact with their vehicles in the future,” says Tony Cannestra, Denso’s director of Corporate Ventures.
“Our customers have indicated to us that they want to move away from key fobs, which are not very smart, and then being able to provide their customers with a more rich experience to interact with their vehicles.”
Denso’s director of Body Electronics Systems, Ron Schubert, says while other wireless key fobs often use a combination of low- and ultra-high-frequency radio signals, Lambda:4’s wireless protocols add a new kind of low-energy Bluetooth communication protocol called Bluetooth HADM (High Accuracy Distance Measurement).
The InfiniteKey deal helped strengthen Denso’s expertise in cloud and mobile solutions, and the new Lambda:4 investment enhances Denso technology's radio signal noise filtering, which aids user identification and authentication.
“Bluetooth HADM offers many benefits over traditional wireless key fobs, as it is more secure and it can communicate through a user’s phone,” Schubert (below, left) says. “This makes for a more seamless experience for the user and increases positional accuracy.”
Lambda:4’s micro-locating capability also differs from other key fob technologies because it can identify a target with no line of sight, something that’s vitally important in the context of search and rescue missions but also can help a car identify an approved user within complex environments, he says.
“The strength of Lambda:4’s technology allows a car to identify when an approved user is approaching, which door they arrive at, and where they seat themselves in the vehicle independent of noise created by surrounding objects,” Schubert says. “This helps with authenticating who can enter the vehicle and boosts its security.”
Vehicle shoppers can expect to see the first applications of the new Lambda:4 smartphone keys hit the market in the next three to five years, depending on Denso’s customers’ implementation plans, he says.
Exactly how automakers apply the passive digital key technology to their cars also will determine how much energy a parked car will spend constantly waiting for the Bluetooth signal to arrive, Schubert says.
The system is designed to use a minimal amount of battery power and not affect battery longevity, but he could not say exactly how much adding this feature will impact a car’s battery because automaker specifications and requirements for the application will differ from model to model.