® Kawasaki's KIPASS System

That's me and a preproduction unit Concours at Kawasaki's then US headquarters in Irvine, California. I was privelaged to spend considerable time on the product in its early days. A thrilling and educational opportunity.

What KIPASS is
For some years now, manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson, Honda, Ducati, Moto-Guzzi and others have had electronic keys, that is, keys that have wireless communication built into them, in addition to their mechanical function, for security reasons. Kawasaki has since 2004 sold streetbikes in Europe that have Kawasaki's version of wireless-enhanced keys known as the Immobilizer system. In Kawasaki's system, the head of the ignition key communicates via radio waves with the bike's ECU (computer), via a short range antenna near the top of the keyswitch. If the key head and ECU fail to communicate, the keyswitch lock will not rotate even though the key is inserted. Kawasaki's Concours 14 sport-tourer's KIPASS (Kawasaki Intelligent Proximity Activation Start System) takes the company's already-existing Immobilizer system several steps further. Instead of just one ECU there are three and instead of the key's head being the transponder, it's the keychain's battery-powered key "fob" that does the work, much as in many higher end cars today. The KIPASS system is part of an innovative overall electronics package Kawasaki calls the Smart System that includes the Concours tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).

The Mitsubishi-designed MISTY- (a communications technology similar to G3 cell network encryption) based KIPASS system uses two communication paths. From keyfob to ECU is radio freqency (RF). From each of the Concours' three ECUs to each other is a hardwired twisted pair cable called a CAN bus. CAN, or controller area network, is simply a Bosch-developed flip-flop signal path for a motor vehicle's mutliple ECUs to intercommunicate in a durable, high security way.

How KIPASS Works
This is how the Kawasaki Concours is started. The central ECU, called the Smart ECU (because it also controls the TPMS), constantly sends out RF waves, even with the keyswitch turned off. When the keyfob is within 5 feet of the Smart ECU, the keyfob "transponds," that is, receives the Smart ECU's signal and returns it with its own unique electronic signature attached. The Smart ECU compares this signature with its six previously stored registrations and if there is a match, the Smart ECU then seeks security confirmation from the other two ECUs, one at a time. Acknowledgement by the keyswitch ECU via the CAN bus permits the keyswitch to be pushed down and then rotated. At the same time, the Smart ECU seeks security confirmation from the FI (engine) ECU via CAN, in order for the fuel injection and ignition systems to be activated.

The bike's three ECU are registered with the Smart ECU at the Kawasaki factory, so confirmation between ECUs is ensured. Replacement of any of the ECUs however requires re-registration of all of the ECUs using a personal computer software application called Kawasaki Diagnostic System (KDS) that is supplied to authorized Kawasaki dealers. The KIPASS system's inter-ECU registration makes it impossible for someone to simply substitute one of the ECUs in order to steal the vehicle.

KIPASS Keyfobs
In the event the keyfob's battery runs down, the keyfob cannot transpond the Smart ECU's signal the normal way. Provision is therefore made to use the keyswitch ECU's short range antenna, by laying the back side of the keyfob directly on the keyswitch, permitting the RF portion of the process to continue to work, but now more like it does in the Euro Immobilizer system. Not surprisingly, this emergency or backup communication method is called by Kawasaki the Immobilizer path, while the normal way is called the Transponder path (official service manual terms). The keyfob therefore has two RF communication paths. The longer range (5 feet) transponder path, amplified by the fob's battery, and the shorter (10mm) Immobilizer path unpowered by the fob's battery and meant for emergency use. Both of these paths are RF, one is simply shorter than the other. Also, each of these paths must be separately registered into the Smart ECU whenever an extra keyfob is added, an eventuality the dealer software takes into account.

Two keyfobs come inside the crate from the factory, and these are pre-registered with the bike's Smart ECU. For that matter, should someone purchase a new Smart ECU for any reason, it also comes with two keyfobs inside the ECU's parts box, also pre-registered to the new ECU. Extra keyfobs are available, and every Smart ECU has six total fob memory spaces. This means a brand new Concours has four extra, unused spaces as delivered. The dealer software (KDS) kit, consisting of a software disk and several cables, is needed to register extra keyfobs. Whenever registering a new or replacement keyfob, all the keyfobs in the vehicle owner's possession must be included in the registration episode. Any that are not present during the process will no longer be recognized. This designed-in feature allows the easy disassociation from the Smart ECU of any fob that is lost. Simply re-registering the remaining fobs will count the lost fob out of the system. If the fob is subsequently recovered, it is easily reassociated by again registering all the keyfobs at the same time. Registering a new keyfob is a little different. This requires the secure ID code that is printed on the keyfob's parts wrapper. If the wrapper and its ID code is for any reason lost before the fob is registered, the fob can never be registered, as the ID code is not marked on the fob. Tire pressure monitoring system sensors are registered, again using KDS, in much the same way as are keyfobs, with the difference being their ID codes are marked on the part itself, and not on the parts wrapper. Another difference is found in already registered components. An already registered keyfob's ID number cannot be retrieved using KDS. However an already registered TPMS sensor can be thus retrieved.

Once the Smart ECU has its six memory slots filled, no more keyfobs can be added. Even if one or more fobs are lost, if all six slots are filled, none can be erased and so no new keyfobs can be added. The MISTY technology does not permit a fob to be erased, only disassociated. The rest of the Smart system is a bit more lenient, as TPMS sensors can be completely individually erased, and the Immobilizer side of the fobs can also be completely erased from the keyswitch ECU.

As aleady mentioned, when registering a new keyfob, both its long range (Transponder) and its short range (Immobilizer) sides must be registered. If only the longer range side is registered, then the emergency low-battery backup (Immobilizer) feature will not work. Kawasaki dealers are even encouraged to temporarily remove a newly registered keyfob's battery to test-confirm the Immobilizer's proper function.

If the bike's battery runs down or is disconnected, the KIPASS system will not operate. That is, the keyswitch cannot be pushed down and rotated because the whole RF thing is not happening. The keyfob's battery is similarly vulnerable. If a keyfob is stored on the vehicle, this will of course be within 5 feet of the Smart ECU. The fob and ECU will in this case continuously communicate, which will dramatically shorten the life of the keyfob's 5-year rated battery. Naturally, a keyfob should not be kept on the vehicle anyway, since this would make the vehicle able to be started at any time. (Sure, you could remove the key from the keyswitch, but the vehicle was not designed to be used this way, a fact that can be attested to by the size and shape of the key's head. The key is a lousy fit in a pants pocket.) A worst-case scenario concering keyfobs is possible on the 2010 and later Concours having the computer-controlled glovebox. Since a keyfob is required to operate the glovebox, leaving a fob in the glovebox where its battery can more quickly run down can result in the unfortunate situation wherein the bike cannot be started because the fob having a dead battery is inside the glovebox and the glovebox cannot be opened until the the keyswitch is operated. A Catch-22 in other words.

Should the rider take his or her keyfob out of range after the vehicle is started, the bike will continue to run but the instrument display will show “transponder out of range.” The vehicle can still be ridden, since the engine is already started. However, if the keyswitch is turned off while the fob is out of range, there is no way to restart it. Actually, a special feature makes this recoverable. The KIPASS system always stays on for 10 seconds after the keyswitch is turned off. The keyswitch can be pushed down and turned within that time, meaning the bike ridden, even without the fob in range. Someone who suddenly realizes their fob is not in their pocket can therefore push the switch down and restart the bike, if done within 10 seconds of having switched the key off. Beyond 10 seconds however, the KIPASS system will lock off, and a keyfob will then be necessary to make the keyswitch work again.

Starting in 2010, one of the two keyfobs that come in the new Concours crate is not a full featured fob but one having the Immobilizer function only and not the transponder function. It therefore does not have a battery. This fob is slim enough to be carried inside a wallet.

Interesting Technical Points
The name of the technology underlying the KIPASS system is called MISTY, which is reportedly an ancronym made from the first names of the five Mitsubishi engineers who worked on the original PC communications encryption project for the Japanese government in the late 1990s.

The red light on the left side of the instruments that flashes regularly indicating the presence of KIPASS doesn't really do anything. It simply flashes continuously for a total of 24 hours. If the keyswitch is not depressed within that time, the light will stop flashing. KIPASS is not affected, just the light. Operating KIPASS by pushing down the keyswitch with a keyfob in proximity will start the light flashing again for a new 24-hour cycle.

The Concours owner's manual has some interesting warnings concerning the KIPASS system. One such warning is that riders having heart pacemakers need to stay more than 9 feet away from the Smart ECU. Since the Smart ECU is just a few inches below the seat, this effectively prevents people with pacemakers from being able to ride a Concours 14 safely. Another statement cautions that KIPASS function can be impaired when the vehicle is near large glass windows or under bridges.

There is no master keyfob. Each keyfob is unique, and operationally they are all equal. However, the Concours owner's manual does recommend that two or more keyfobs not be kept close together as they may interfere with each other.

There have been a few reports that the push-down and turn phase of the KIPASS system has not worked correctly, when a registered keyfob was present, and thus the vehicle could not be started. Usually this happens some short time after turning the keyswitch off, such as after having breakfast at a restaurant. This has been found to be due to a microswitch inside the keyswitch which has for some reason stuck in the on position, resulting in the KIPASS system overloading and disengaging, a fault mode in which the vehicle cannot be started because the keyswitch can then not be pushed down. Owners report that a hard knock on the keyswitch has in some cases dislodged the microswitch and normal function has resumed. A better emergency technique to find the cable for the keyswitch under the left cowling and disconnect and reconnect it, similar to rebooting a personal computer. A well-known field fix practiced by some Kawasaki dealers is to chamfer the edges of the microswitch housing with a sharp knife, which seems to make the microswitch less prone to sticking. Better yet, replacing the microswitch's internal spring with a slightly stronger one having similar dimensions consitently overcomes any extra friction the microswitch may build up. In fact, Kawasaki's U.S. headquarters is aware and sanctions this latter fix for those few who have expienced the KIPASS lockup issue.

The point of KIPASS is lost on some people. In the U.S., insurance companies are not as successful at lobbying legislation favoring their business as they are in Europe. Thus the issue of theft is not as important to us. The fact is, KIPASS offers such a huge theft deterence that systems like it are nearly mandatory outside the U.S. Here's why. A purely mechanical locks offers at most a few thousand unique key combinations, and in many cases, depending on the vehicle, only hundreds. Electronic systems such as Immobilizer and KIPASS increase security by providing combinations of codes that potentially number into the hundreds of thousands.

2017 Addendum
I get requests every so often to help folks acquire a KDS system for their use. You don't really need my help. Here's what to do. One, see the factory technical training lesson plan on KDS, linked below. Two, then take the part numbers relative to the Concours to a Kawasaki dealer and order the KDS pieces. There are several parts, in addition to the software. Each part has a part number, and even if a dealer is unfamiliar with the system, that doesn't mean he can't order the parts. Three, if your dealer resists ordering the pieces for you, or proves incompetent, go to the next dealer. The parts are available only by Kawasaki part numbers, and this means only through a dealer. That's all there is to getting KDS for yourself. But read the lesson plan no matter what else you do. Also be aware Kawasaki has not made KDS easy to use by non-dealers. There are two possible issues. One, the cost of all the parts is quite expensive, well over $1000. And two, even though you can order the software disk, installation of the software onto a computer may require connection to the factory's computer for a software upgrade, and this can be done only by a dealer, and of course he will have to be friendly enough to do this, and also knowledgeable enough, two things dealers are likely not to be. A third difficulty is the software is fairly buggy to install. In fact installation is the hardest part of using KDS. For example, some software you may already have on your computer has been found to be incompatible with KDS, with the result that KDS will not install. Good luck!

Suggested further reading on this site:
The Kawasaki Concours 10 years later
The police bike Concours recall
The Kawasaki Concours
Factory KDS training book

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