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A Smarter Car Key

BMW has developed a prototype RFID-enabled key that could pay for your dinner, adjust your car seat and tune in your favorite radio station.
By Beth Bacheldor
Feb 01, 2009—Of course you expect your car key to unlock the door and start the engine. Now German automaker BMW has developed a prototype of an RFID-enabled key that could also pay for your dinner, as well as adjust your car seat and tune in your favorite radio station.

The electronic key looks similar to current models, except that it's embedded with a contactless chip from NXP Semiconductors. The SmartMX chip employs Near Field Communication technology, a passive short-range, high-frequency RFID protocol being integrated in mobile phones and other consumer electronic devices for payment and ticketing.

Putting a contactless chip into a car key makes a lot of sense, says François Patrice, NXP's marketing director for smart cards. "The car key is something that is very important to you, so you don't want to lose it," he says. "And there is a natural convergence between a car key and a payment card. If you go to the supermarket to do your shopping, you might take a car, so you have your key with you, and then you use the key to pay for your groceries. If you're using your car, you might have to pay a toll, or pay for parking, and so now you can use your key to do all that."

A spokeswoman for BMW says the RFID-enabled key is still a research project and no decision has been made as to when it will be available commercially.
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