Imagine being able to check your fuel level, book a train ticket and pay for your gas all with one key. Those are just a few of the functions BMW has in store with its latest key prototype. It may seem like something out of Q’s lab in a James Bond film, but the technology already exists and is in use in other areas, so the BMW smart key is much closer to being a reality than an idea.

The technology is called near-field communications, or NFC, and is currently in use at the airport (it allows ticket scanners to identify your ticket in a mobile device) and at checkout counters, when you run a payment card over the quick-pay scanner (rather than swipe a card and sign for it or enter a PIN). The key would act as a mini-computer of sorts, storing data that would be transferred when in contact with an NFC-enabled device.

For example, you could book a hotel room and send the data to your key; when you arrive at the hotel, bypass check-in and go directly to the room, wave your key in front of the NFC-enabled door, and in you go. Or you could store tickets for public transport–just hand the key to the train conductor, who would swipe it and validate your ticket. Or use it as a GPS device; it can track where the car is and transfer the information to your mobile device (to act as a display unit). If you’re paranoid you forgot to lock the car, the key can confirm that you did (or didn’t). You can even check your fuel level to see if you need to make a pit stop before a morning meeting.

Certain BMW keys already store some vehicle information, but it can only be accessed at certain garages with reading devices. Although BMW does not have a definitive date for the key’s introduction to the North American market, it’s clearly in the works (and will become more of a commodity as NFC-enabled technology expands). One thing is for sure; it’s extra motivation not to lose your keys. But if you do, one quick phone call can disable all the functions.

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Meg Hemphill is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle writer who covers the good life: style, food, automotive, travel and entertainment. When it comes to cars, it is less about the nuts and bolts and more about the aesthetic, luxury and occasional practicality. A former editor at InStyle, she writes for the Huffington Post and a variety of other publications.

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