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Imagine landing late at 2 a.m., walking to the airport rental car counter and being greeted with a sign that says, "Closed, open at 6 a.m."

Now what?

Keyfree Technologies, a Toronto-based startup, says it's smartphone-enabled app will do away with that sort of dilemma. Fumbling to find keys in the morning? Frustrated the fat fob takes up the space for your coffee mug? Like to restrict the hours your teen is enabled to drive the family car?

Car keys, say the founders, will soon be obsolete.

Keyfree intends to be first to market‎ with the technology that enables motorists to start vehicles using the smartphone.‎ No physical key required.

The device should be available in retail outlets with a MSRP of $199 by the second quarter of this year, though the company clearly sees car sharing and rental companies as primary targets.

‎A small device is installed in the car, and an app on as many smartphones as the car owner chooses. Using the cloud and bluetooth tech, by smartphone the car can be started remotely. It will even unlock automatically as the motorist approaches.

As well, ‎it will log travels and can restrict usage. For example while the teen may receive a 'key' on his/her phone, it can be programmed to operate only during certain hours -- after 10 p.m., say, the teen is hailing a cab.

"Some of these features already exist," co-founder ‎Courtney Zorio said during a CES press session on Monday. "We're putting them into one simple package... like Apple TV."

It can operate on 95 per cent of vehicles dating to 1996, he says.

If the phone is stolen, lost or damaged, the owner can delete the key remotely and re‎install on a new phone.

When an Internet connection is lost, in an underground garage for example, the phone communicates directly with the device via Bluetooth.

The company has built several measures into software to prevent hacking, says Zorio, whose background is electrical engineering.

Company CEO Shane Wright envisions "one app on the phone for the car, home‎ and cottage. That is the future."

Meantime, as with many new technologies, the strategy is to hit the retail marketplace "so the O.E.M. sees people want it."

He believes "car dealerships will go crazy for this because the saleman won't have to go back to the showroom to get a key. Just use your smartphone and drive away."

As well, car sharing companies could eliminate the key and car rental companies could extend business with unmanned lots, he says.

Keyfree worked with‎ a Waterloo company, Fidus, on product development and received funding from Downing Street, of Toronto. Downing Street president Daniel Odorico is also a co-founder.

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