How the Tesla Model 3 Works without a Key or a Fob ""

By | September 13, 2017

2018 Tesla Model 3

While much of the hype around the Tesla Model 3 centers around its all-electric powertrain, long driving range, and (relative) affordability, it’s possible that the biggest innovation in the Model 3 is the way you get in and go.

Tesla has wrapped a new-tech feature into the Model 3 that should make things a bit more convenient for owners. Instead of having a regular key fob like current Tesla vehicles (and basically every other luxury car), Tesla owners will be able to unlock and start their cars simply by having their smartphones with them.

2018 Tesla Model 3

It’s unlikely that most Model 3 owners will go anywhere without their phones, so it makes sense to build the vehicle’s key into that device. The Model 3 uses a technology called Bluetooth Low Energy (or LE) that is built into most smartphones made in the past few years (and every iPhone since the iPhone 4S). It allows for a low-power, always-on connection between the phone and the car. When you walk toward the Model 3 with your phone, the car and the phone talk to each other and authenticate, and the car unlocks the doors.

Of course “smart” keys aren’t new. Mercedes began using electronic keyless systems 20 years ago, but it still required the driver to haul around a key fob or a credit-card-size card.

2018 Tesla Model 3

Tesla has you covered if the phone dies. The Model 3 comes with a credit-card-size backup key—handy for valet parking—that uses a relatively new technology called near-field communication or NFC; it’s the same tech that allows tap-to-pay iPhone and Android transactions at retailers. If the phone doesn’t work for any reason, the card can be tapped against a spot on the car’s B-pillar to unlock the car. Then, there’s a spot on the center console where the key can be stored, just behind the cupholders, allowing the car to be driven as normal.

Tesla isn’t the only company experimenting with a digital key—Volvo plans to offer it in some markets beginning next year—but it is the first company to roll it out as standard on what’s intended to be a mass-produced, mass-market car.

2018-Tesla-Model-3-REEL

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