Toyota announced Monday that it wants to help you rent out your car by letting people inside without the keys. The manufacturer’s new Smart Key Box allows people to unlock and start their vehicle without a physical key. This could let users join an AirBnB-like system for car-sharing managed through a smartphone app. The company’s hope is that this will give its customers a chance to make more money and, in the process, help it stay relevant as the era of personal vehicle ownership comes to an end.
Smart Key Box works by using wireless signals to communicate with nearby smartphones. Anyone who has rented your car — or perhaps borrowed it for the evening — can then use their phone to lock, unlock, and start the vehicle within a window of time determined by the car’s owner. Toyota hopes this will encourage people to share their cars without giving away easy-to-duplicate physical keys.
The device sits in a glovebox and doesn’t require any modifications to the vehicle itself. Toyota also says the technology will be used to start a Toyota-only ride-sharing network. Revenues will be split with the vehicle’s owner, and Toyota has partnered with Getaround, a Silicon Valley ride-sharing startup, to start testing the program in 2017.
Toyota’s platform sounds a lot like the upcoming Tesla Network designed to help people wrest the ride-sharing market from companies like Uber and Lyft by helping people make some money while their cars drive themselves around when they aren’t being used.
Toyota’s plan doesn’t go quite that far — humans will still be expected to drive the vehicles unlocked with the Smart Key Box. But the company said that it plans to let people use income from the ride-sharing platform to make their car payments.
These platforms are setting the world up for the end of the era when everyone owned their own vehicle. Soon they won’t have to: Some people will own vehicles and make extra money by renting them out; others will do the renting to avoid having to buy and maintain a car. If done properly, these platforms could offer many of the benefits of vehicle ownership without incurring all of the same costs or frustration.
Toyota plans to test the ride-sharing platform with Getaround in San Francisco starting in January 2017. It’s also planning to explore other businesses that could benefit from the Smart Key Box, like unmanned rent-a-car stations, in Japan. Toyota has not announced how much the Smart Key Box will cost, or whether it will come standard in its vehicles. The company did not respond to Inverse’s request for comment.