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If you’ve been looking to buy a new car lately, you might have run across the mention of near-field communication. It’s a growing trend in the industry, but many consumers have no idea that this tech isn’t exactly cutting-edge. Instead, this is a case of an old innovation being used in creative new ways.

After reading about what’s going on with near-field communication for cars, you can decide if it’s much of an improvement or not.

Near-Field Communication: Brief Overview

Fear not if you’re not really sure what near-field communication is.

Have you ever used a tap-to-pay feature at the grocery store with your phone? That’s powered by near-field communication. Same goes for bumping phones with friends to play a game or swap info. It’s similar to Bluetooth, but it works at shorter distances and requires zero configuring to connect devices. Also, near-field communication works through electromagnetic radio fields, instead of radio transmissions, unlike WiFi and Bluetooth.

The NFC Forum, which was created in 2004 by Phillips, Sony, and Nokia, keeps near-field communication interoperable with Bluetooth, WiFi, FeliCa, etc. That compatibility is key to making near-field communication viable today.

Honda and Cadillac

Really, Honda and Cadillac don’t have a lot in common. One is a mainstream brand, while the other only makes luxury models. What these two do share is the fact they are production vehicles with near-field communication integrated.

The 2018 Honda Accord has a stylized “N” on the dashboard, just right of the infotainment system. Embedded there is a near-field tag that works with Android phones. Just tap the phone to the logo on the dash, select “Connect Device to Vehicle Bluetooth” on the infotainment screen, accept the pairing request on the phone, and you’ve connected your device to the infotainment system. Sorry iPhone owners, Apple only allows the NFC chip in its devices to work with Apple Pay.

Second on the scene, the all-new 2019 Cadillac XT4 crossover also comes with near-field communication. The embedded NFC chip is just below the infotainment touchscreen, a placement that’s far more convenient for drivers with shorter arms. Knowing how Cadillac works, if the NFC feature is well-received by XT4 owners, the tech will be used throughout the brand’s lineup. From there, it will spread to Chevrolet, GMC, and Buick.

Since the Cadillac XT4 doesn’t launch until this fall, we don’t know for sure the mechanics of pairing a phone with the vehicle. You’ll have to accept the pairing request on your Android, just like in the Accord, but Cadillac can either make connecting the two through the infotainment system super simple or unnecessarily cumbersome.

The reason why Honda and Cadillac have turned to NFC tech, and why more automakers could follow in their footsteps, is the fact that Bluetooth can be finnicky. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you probably don’t own a car, don’t own a smartphone, or drive something that was made before 2010. Bluetooth has become an expletive screamed by quite a few drivers when having trouble streaming music or a phone call.

BMW and Mercedes

The Bavarian automaker has done one better than Honda and Cadillac, launching what was the first vehicle with NFC tech. Way back in 2012 the BMW Car Hotspot LTE was introduced, allowing users to place their phone on the hotspot for a moment, pairing the phone and car.

Mercedes-Benz showed up at the 2016 CES to announce the new generation of the E-Class would come with an NFC chip in the wireless charging pad. It makes sense, since you already place your phone there. Once paired, the phone can start the engine, plus lock and unlock the doors.

Jaguar Land Rover

Not to be outdone, Jaguar and Land Rover have done something even more interesting with NFC. If you own a new Land Rover Discovery or Jaguar F-Pace, the SUVs come with something called the Activity Key.

If you actually like to do outdoor activities where your regular and quite expensive key will be damaged, like surfing, river rafting, etc. you don’t have to risk taking the key in a special bag, leaving it unattended with other belongings, or some other plan. Instead, you wear a wristband that looks kind of like a basic Fitbit. You leave the full key in the vehicle, which sounds crazy, but it won’t work until you return and touch the Active Key to the badge on the tailgate, where an NFC chip is located, unlocking the doors.

You might point out that plenty of cars today have the capability of unlocking the doors using your phone. That’s true, but you might not take the phone with you, although that’s not very likely. Another possible problem, which seems inconceivable if you live in a major metropolitan area, is that at some point the phone, vehicle, or both might not have a data connection. If you really are an active person and you go somewhere truly remote, data connections are completely nonexistent. I venture into such areas regularly, so having a tech that allows you to unlock the car without a data connection or submerging the key in a river is quite useful.

More to Come

The auto industry seems to be hot on NFC tech. Early last year, chipmaker NXP said five different automakers were working with it on putting chips into door handles. It couldn’t name the automakers for contractual reasons, but this means tapping your phone to a door handle to get inside is coming. Considering the vulnerabilities of smart key systems right now, and the fact people don’t want to carry a Faraday Cage or empty Doritos bag with them to store their smart key, this could close that security loophole.

People are dreaming up even more inventive uses. NFC could play a role in vehicles communicating with infrastructure (V2X) or other cars on the road (V2V). It’s funny that such a simple, aging tech gets a new lease on life through some creative thinking.

Discuss near-field communication and other upcoming trends in the Automotive Industry Trends GrabCAD Groups. 

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