Using your car key as a payment method may not be something you've always wanted, but BMW and technological partner NXP are betting it will become a must-have feature once people are aware of it. The system combines a high-tech microchip system with a vehicle's key fob to produce a secure contactless payment system and key in one package, ready to pay for everything from parking, tolls and maintenance to groceries and clothing.

Citing convenience and ease-of-use as two of the primary benefits, BMW and NXP are angling for a new type of technological integration that more closely intertwines the vehicle into daily life routines - a brilliant strategy from a marketing perspective. Such convergence - as the technophiles would call it - of devices into a single unit, especially disparate technologies like keys and credit cards, functions to simultaneously decrease the proliferation of things we have to carry for daily activity while tying its users into that particular system.

BMW is keen on fomenting such car-life integration. “With the concept of integrating contactless payment functionality in a car key, we are working on the combination of automotive technology and lifestyle,” said Prof. Raymond Freymann, managing director of BMW Group Research and Technology. “In cooperation with NXP we are doing research in enhancing the capabilities of the car key into one smart device for access, payment, and services that will simplify the lives of BMW car drivers in future. It will help us to stay in touch with our drivers directly and deliver a complete range of mobility-enhancing services.”

The potential for value-added service for both the car-owning experience and the general cardholder is huge, as is the ability to bring in third-party partnerships with major retailers and banks. On the other hand, such intense integration combines a number of extremely high-value items into a very tiny - and easily lost or stolen - package. As anyone who has suffered identity theft or the loss of a debit or credit card can attest, the mess that can be made in the first eight hours can take weeks or even months to clean up, and years to erase from one's credit record.

BMW's new key can also be seen as another step forward in the growing functionality of keys themselves. Earlier this month, Ford revealed its MyKey system, which allows users to limit a car's speed, issue warnings at certain speeds and even prevent disabling of traction control, among other things.

The BMW key system is still just a prototype at this point, however, requiring a great deal of infrastructure work to enable its widespread and secure use. No specific plans for the key's production have yet been announced, but it's something to keep an eye on over the next several years.