Thursday, October 26, 2017

Products for Unattended Car Access

I had hoped to find an automobile "Smart Device" to help streamline my business. The device would allow unattended hand off of keys and would prevent a renter (aka traveler) from locking her keys in the car.

In it's most basic form, a traveler walks up to your car for the first time, unlocks it via a pin pad or mobile app and finds the keys inside.

There are quite a few products out there but none quite seem to fit the needs I outline below. There's a real opportunity for one of these manufacturers to tweak their offering for the car share side hustle. If anyone knows of a product that seems to fit, please get in touch with me.

What's Needed

The Swiss Army Knife of the peer-to-peer car share industry should have the following "baseline" features,
  1. Cost including installation should be less then $200. 
  2. A mobile app would allow the owner to manage multiple, temporary pins that can be added and deleted as needed.
  3. A pin pad that allows the traveler to open the car by tapping in the pin.  
  4. Or, a mobile app that allows a traveler to tap the pin into the mobile directly.
The mobile would communicate with the brain module via bluetooth in the same way the August locks and other bluetooth enabled locks work with their respective mobile apps.

Pin pad or mobile? Either will work and it would be nice to have both. However, given my background as a mobile app developer, I'll lean in that direction.

The last think I'll describe is what a mobile centric implementation should look like. This mobile app has both a traveler and host mode.

The host mode provides the following features,
  1. It allows a host to register a vehicle's brain module to the cloud (must be paired with the vehicle when doing this one-time process). An owner must be inside the car in order to do the pairing operation. 
  2. It allows the host to invite travelers to access the vehicle on specific dates. 
  3. It sends an alert to the host when the vehicle has been unlocked. 
The traveler mode provides the following features,
  1. It allows a registered traveler to receive an invitation.
  2. It allows the traveler to unlock the vehicle when in bluetooth range assuming the traveler has a valid invitation.  Bonding (i.e. permanent pairing) is not required and the mobile application provides the necessary security layer.
  3. For security reasons, the app will check back regularly to see if access has been revoked.
A "Pro" version of this product would integrate cellular connectivity into the brain module allowing for mileage and location tracking, remote lock/unlock, diagnostic alerts, remote vehicle ignition disabling and would allow the owner to remotely turn on the car (i.e. the traveler lost the keys). 

We'll take a look at some of the top offerings here.


Getaround Connect

The Getaround Connect is Getaround's proprietary product that integrates a mobile app and their smart module "Connect."

Connect is an excellent product an more than satisfies all the baseline requirements and then some. Once the traveler opens the car, they can locate keys and they're off to the races. Additionally, if s/he looses the keys, Getaround can remotely start the engine; or disable the ignition if stolen and even remind the owner to fill up the tank when returned.

In fact, Getaround Connect is the only product reviewed here that will provide temporary access to a traveler.

However, the Connect is proprietary. Don't expect to use it if your doubly registered across Turo and Getaround.

Cost - $99 for the initial install + $20/month for cellular connectivity

VisionTech Keyless Entry

The VisionTech Keyless Entry key pad is a simple device that is entirely focused on keyless entry. It installs on the inside of the windshield and can detect finger presses from the outer side of the windshield. Either connect the appropriate wires yourself (non-trivial) or find an installer.

This product works well but must be reprogrammed manually before each rental session commences. This means that the owner needs to manually (from the keypad), enter a new code and then email it to the traveler.

Having to reprogram a new pin code each time is for security reasons. You could simply share the same code with many travelers and change it infrequently. Since the main reason for using this device  is to share your car keys by hiding them in the car, you may be OK with this. However, I believe the majority of owners will not be and I'm certainly not.

VisionTech is planning to release an updated version of their product that will support a mobile app for re-configuring the pin over bluetooth but until they support multiple pins, this remains a non-starter.

Cost - $73.75

Door Key Pads

While very similar to the VisionTech Keyless system and with the same limitations, this keypad is installed externally and communicates to a "brain unit" installed inside the car. The "brain unit" can be installed by you if you're handy or by an installer.

This device shares the same limitation as discussed with the VisionTech product, the owner needs to manually (from the keypad) enter a new code prior to each new rental.

No plans on the horizon for a mobile app for this product.

Also, the device doesn't work with GMC, Chevrolet, Cadillac, or Buick.

Cost - $147.00 (free shipping)

Car Link

This product is great except for two glaring limitation that render it unusable for car sharing. 

First, the good. VOXX's Car Link BT allows close proximity lock and unlock through their app. They also allow engine start but that requires additional parts and labor.

This product requires a CarLinkBT Module to be installed in the car that then communicates with a mobile app over Bluetooth. This module is installed by licensed installer. The CarLinkBT Module can be paired with a maximum of 10 mobile phones.

This product would be a welcome addition to a fleet where up to 10 people were sharing the car. However, the use case here requires that an owner invite a traveler to access the car for a specific period of time. Therefore, any person with the app can gain access to the car for some set period of time. For example, an owner might invite her husband and son unlimited access while simultaneously restricting an upcoming traveler's access to the upcoming days they have rented the car.

The second issue is a need for a division between owner features and traveler features. For example, the owner, and only the owner, should be able to send an invite to someone or revoke access.

Car Link also has some impressive features that are enabled when you choose the cellular premium service. These features however beg for owner only permissions.

Until, they provide "temporary access" and owner only management of access, I can't recommend this product.

Cost - ~$500 fully installed by professional installer

Compustar Smartphone Add-on

The Compustar Smartphone add-on has the same limitations as the Viper SmartKey reviewed below. One glaring difference is that it appears to operate only over cellular and therefore will require a subscription fee. Using their app, you will be able to lock/unlock the door but as is the case with all the products, there is no way to hand out temporary access.

Another product that Compustar offers is the RPS-Touch. This keypad installs inside the windshield and connects to the internal "brain unit." As with the other keypad units already installed, Compustar needs a mobile app to allow an owner to manage multiple, simultaneous, temporary pins. 

The last thing I'll say about Compustar is they really need to beef up their online product descriptions and specifications.  

Until Compustar adds the afire mentioned features, I can't recommend them. 

Firstech Drone Mobile - $93.98, requires an installer
Compustar RPS-Touch - $66.00, couldn't find anything about installation.

Viper SmartStart

The Viper Smart Key can be installed as a standalone module or added to an existing Viper security or remote start system. At it's core, it's a Bluetooth module that communicates with the Viper SmartKey mobile app allowing you to lock/unlock the door through the app or by enabling proximity sensing to lock as you approach and unlock as you leave.

So far, so good. However, the mobile app must pair with the BT module in the car in order to use it. This of course defeats the entire reason for using it. The owner would need to meet the traveler, open the car and put the BT module into pairing mode while the traveler downloads the app and completes the pairing. Forget about unattended key hand off.

Other Viper products provide excellent remote access, monitoring, tracking and security features solely for the owner. You might even use them to remotely unlock the car when you get a text from the traveler that he's arrived but this can be problematic and I wouldn't suggest it. 

My recommendation to Viper would be to add a cloud component to SmartKey that supports the ability to send a temporary key to a traveler and add both traveler and owner modes in their mobile app. 

Until they add these features, they won't cut it for the car share market. 

Cost - $119, requires an installer but no subscription service.


None of the products hit the mark for unattended hand-off of car keys for the car share side hustle with the exception of the Getaround Connect. However, that product locks you into the Getaround service.

There is a real need for a mobile centric product that fulfills the basic need of unattended access (via Bluetooth) and optionally provides remote access, monitoring, tracking and security features for the owner. In addition, there needs to be either a single app that disables owner features for the traveler or two separate apps for traveler and owner.

A Quick Aside

The last thing I'll mention is that I use a Schlage Connect to manage access to my Santa Cruz Airbnb. It works flawlessly and since it has a pin pad, travelers never need to download an app. I create a unique and temporary pin via a VeraLite Hub that is programmed over ZWave communications to the Schlage and then send that to the traveler for complete unattended arrival. 

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