Never leave the house without your smartphone? New research is trying to ensure that will take care of your keys, too.
A house key app under development for smartphones will allow people to wave their phones at doors to unlock them. The app, called ShareKey, also will allow its owners to electronically share keys with a houseguest, a plumber scheduled to come in for a fix, or anyone else they like — and to attach certain limits to that access. A company could use the system to control employee and guest access to a building from anywhere in the world, say ShareKey's creators at the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology in Germany.
The researchers plan to demonstrate their work in March at CeBIT, a trade show in Hanover, Germany.
"ShareKey offers two new functions: Users can issue digital keys remotely and assign these keys certain user permissions," Alexandra Dmitrienko, a Fraunhofer researcher, said in a statement. "For instance, I can grant the building superintendent access to my apartment for a short period so that he can open the door for the gas meter to be read while I'm at work."
ShareKey users also could limit access to a certain number of times or to certain dates, such as holidays and weekends.
Hotels or car-sharing companies might be interested in using ShareKey, Fraunhofer researchers say. [SEE ALSO: 'Magic' Marker Unlocks Hotel Doors ]
The new app uses near-field communication (NFC), which many existing smartphones already support. (Apple's iPhone 5 is a notable model that doesn't support NFC ). Phones with NFC are able to send and receive NFC signals over distances of a few inches. Some existing apps already make use of the signaling tech, such as Google Wallet, which allows users to tap their smartphones onto NFC readers at cash registers to pay for purchases.
Several companies and research groups are already using NFC to make systems for unlocking doors with smartphones. Hyundai recently announced it wants to make a tap-to-unlock car by 2015. The Fraunhofer researchers say they hope ShareKey will help spread the technology by showing how convenient and secure it can be.
Fraunhofer researchers say they try to keep ShareKey safe from hacking by storing ShareKey data in a separate place from other apps and data in the smartphone's memory. In addition they use encryption to secure keys sent to phones from a central server.
Dmitrienko and her team are developing ShareKey for Android smartphones, although the system doesn't have to be limited to Android, according to a Fraunhofer document about the project.
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