Coming Soon: Digital Door Keys Right on Your Smartphone

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On Wednesday I wrote about a digital Key Ring Rewards app that puts your membership cards (grocery, gym, etc.) onto your smartphone, cutting down on the amount of plastic you’d carry around every day. But what if I told you that soon you might be able to do the same with your physical door keys too?

New door key software—currently under development by a California-based subdivision of Sweden’s Assa Abloy called HID Global—is being tested in the dorms of Arizona State University as a substitute for plastic entry badges. So far, the response from a small sample of students has been “pretty positive.” Here’s how it would work according to Forbes:

“The software, which interacts with physical ID card readers via an application or by swiping it near a reader, could eventually replace the plastic badges that millions of people worldwide use to securely enter their offices and other facilities.”

They continue:

“Beyond campuses, HID thinks the technology is a match for stores, hotels, homes, offices and government facilities. Because they include NFC, digital key-enabled phones could also be used to pay for public transportation, store electronic event tickets, access hotel rooms and redeem coupons.”

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The phones would utilize something called Near Field Communication technology (NFC for short) to exchange data and open doors. The problem, however, is that while a number of manufacturers and carriers such as HTC, Motorola and AT&T are building NFC tech into their products, the adoption rate is nowhere near where it needs to be for the technology to be widely used. (At ASU they’ve tackled the problem by giving iPhone 4s, certain BlackBerry phones and Android-powered devices MicroSD chips to provide the same capabilities as NFC-enabled handsets.)

There are obviously a number of obstacles: In one instance the app was reported to have frozen up, and the student in question had to reboot their phone multiple times in order to get in. Plus, students could negligently forget to charge their phones (hey, it’s college after all) and lock themselves out in the process.

Still, it seems like something that could eventually catch on. In college we were already using a single plastic ID to swipe in everywhere, and most office buildings require some sort of digital key card for access anyway.

“It could signal yet another way smart phones are helping us dematerialize,” writes Jaymi Heimbuch in Treehugger. Wallets, credit cards and membership IDs are already gravitating towards a digital space and consolidating on our smartphones; it makes perfect sense that our keys may eventually follow suit.

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Chris Gayomali is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.