Apple CarPlay Could Unlock or Start Car as You Approach

Imagine being able to lock your car, turn it on, or even pop the trunk without ever touching it or your keys. A new patent secured by Apple shows CarPlay-like head units using geofencing technology and portable devices like iPhones to control a plethora of car functions. Obtained by AppleInsider, the patent was published by the USPTO today and describes in detail how iPhones in close proximity to a CarPlay-enabled vehicle could act like a remote control that could start and lock the car, among other things.

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According to the patent, the functionality would rely heavily on geofencing and Bluetooth LE. First, a car accessory like the CarPlay head unit that can connect to an iPhone deciphers if the car is parked and then sends that information to the iPhone in the form of a vCard or other digital communication via Bluetooth LE. Then, the iPhone creates a "virtual geofence" around the car, and can then monitor its location in relation to the parked car. Using those established locations - that of the iPhone and that of the parked car - the iPhone can then trigger certain actions based on its proximity to the car.

While remote control of a car's basic functions isn't new, Apple's technology would take it one step further. At a basic level, your iPhone could trigger your car doors to unlock when it senses you're approaching it in your driveway. But the patent describes not just one virtual geofence for the entire car, but the possibility of multiple geofences that could control different parts of the car, like the trunk, hood, and doors. For example, if you approach your car from behind, your iPhone could interact with the trunk's geofence and remotely unlock it, without unlocking the rest of the car.

This technology is an ambitious goal for Apple - CarPlay currently has limited availability and is only just hitting showrooms in new car models. There's also the question of how secure this system will be, and how Apple will make sure that only the owner's iPhone can remotely control their car. It will likely be a while before we see this technology integrated into CarPlay, and even longer before we see all the possible bugs worked out of the system.

Valentina Palladino

Valentina is Commerce Editor at Engadget and has covered consumer electronics for a number of publications including Tom's Guide, Wired, Laptop Mag and Ars Technica, with a particular focus on wearables, PCs and other mobile tech.