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Lost your car keys, again? Israeli app offers smart, ‘key-free’ driving

Cobra launches Mobile-Key tech, allowing drivers to open and start vehicles using smartphones; hopes to start sales in US and Europe in coming months

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Cobra, an Israeli maker of automotive safety devices and door-locking systems, launches its Mobile-Key technology to open cars via an app, no need for keys (Courtesy)
Cobra, an Israeli maker of automotive safety devices and door-locking systems, launches its Mobile-Key technology to open cars via an app, no need for keys (Courtesy)

A minor but frustrating annoyance may soon go the way of the horse and wagon: getting held up leaving home because your car keys are missing. That is, assuming you know where your phone is.

Cobra, an Israeli maker of automotive safety devices and door-locking systems, is launching its Mobile-Key technology, initially in Israel, which will enable drivers to open their vehicles via a smartphone app suitable for iOS and Android devices.

The technology will enable drivers to have the same advanced door-opening features offered by Tesla and other luxury car manufacturers, the company said on Sunday at the launch of the app.

Losing a car key can cost not only time but money: between NIS 1,000 ($305) and NIS 4,000 to replace it, depending on the car manufacturer.

Cobra’s Mobile-Key technology includes an electronic control unit beneath the dashboard that interacts with smartphone app (Courtesy)

Cobra proposes adding a small electronic control unit beneath the dashboard of any car. The unit interacts with the appropriate smartphone app via Bluetooth. The app allows the car owner to open and close doors, open the trunk, or flash the lights, and of course start the car without the key — just with the smartphone in the car.

Even following installation, the car key can continue to be used, so the driver has the option to open the vehicle either manually or via the app, the company said.

Yuval Asaraf, the chief technology officer at the firm, explained that the technology is suitable for cars that use buttons to start. These kinds of cars have generally been on the road since 2014.

Tech giants Google and Apple are both working on their own digital car keys, which they hope will be installed in future models of cars. Tesla and other luxury car makers also have their own versions of digital keys. What makes Cobra’s product different is that the app can work with cars that are already on the road, Asaraf said.

Five users can share the app, Cobra said.

In Israel the technology will be made available to consumers both via the nation’s largest car importers and after-market, via private installation. System installation, connection to the vehicle’s electrical system and standard synchronization take 60 minutes and can be completed by a qualified technician at the customer’s home, the company said.

The company hopes to launch the product within three months in the US and then in Europe, said Asaraf.

The recommended retail price of Mobile-Key is NIS 1,190 plus VAT. The cost of the system includes installation at the customer premises, the company said.

Cobra is incorporated as LD Israel Auto Equipment 1990, and is also the maker of DOORe, a smart-lock security system that does away with house keys to enter the home, using a fingerprint system.

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