Pimp my Car Key

Tritium-Cover

The car industry moves along at a glacial pace. Even advancement in car keys have been pretty limited. Sure, there is keyless entry and push-button start on some cars, although I have some ideas.

Many car keys look like the one below. A button to lock the car, another to unlock the car, and a red LED that lights up red when either of the buttons are pressed. That’s great and all, but when it’s dark outside, and you can’t remember which button locks your car, you have to either look really closely or use another light source, such as your phone.

Mazda-Key

If you’ve already started walking away from your car, you can’t just lift the door handle to try and open a door, and having a single (red) colour LED doesn’t indicate anything other than you’ve pushed a button.

The simple solution: Use 2 LEDs rather than one. One red – for lock, and one green – for unlock. This way, you’d at least be able to tell which button you’ve pressed.

This still doesn’t solve the problem of not being able to see an indicator of the button that you want to press. For this, car manufacturers could use a slightly more …..

Radioactive solution: Tritium, in all its glowing glory!

Through a process called radioluminescence, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen creates fluorescent light that glows for around 10 years. It only emits beta rays, which wont penetrate skin, so it’s safe to keep in your pants pocket, so any future children of yours wont glow in the dark.

Tritium-1

It isn’t bright enough to be seen in daylight, but in darkness you’ll be able to tell which button you want to press. The obvious application of this is to have 2 tritium indicators in each key. One red – for lock, and one green – for unlock.

If you were to replicate this function with full-time LEDs, your car key battery would be drained in far less than the decade of use you’ll get out of this. If after 10 years, you haven’t figured out which button to press, or if you’ve bought a used car, you could replace the key to get the light back.

Tritium is already used in products such as glowing indicators on wristwatches, exit signs and weapons sights. This hardly seems like a stretch for a new application for tritium.

People frequently forget if they’ve actually locked their parked car, and end up walking back to their vehicle to press the button again. Why can’t cars communicate with a smartphone app by Bluetooth, and send a signal that you locked your car at a specific time, or as at the last time your car communicated with your phone (and stating a time), that your car was unlocked? It’s not a perfect solution, as you’re not necessarily getting the current state of the car lock – just what it was when you were last in range of the car. You could probably build something like this directly into the key, although it might tax the key battery a little too much.

The better solution would be for your car to connect to the Internet via a mobile data connection that would indicate to a server that your car is either locked or unlocked. Your smartphone app would then be able to connect to your car over the Internet and check the current status.

Beyond this, you could probably integrate this into the keyless start system. Replacing a modern car key is quite expensive. If you had to lend someone your car, and didn’t want to risk the $500 key replacement cost, you could have them download the relevant smartphone app, and authorise their phone to act as a car key – until you revoke it. I’m sure some people would worry about cars being hacked and stolen via iPhone, so there would have to be reasonable security in place.

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