ON the cusp of the post-penny age, the Royal Canadian Mint is preparing to launch a digital alternative to all coinage and small bank notes -- dubbed "MintChip" -- which it hails as the natural next step in the "evolution of currency."
The concept was quietly introduced on Wednesday when the Ottawa-based Crown corporation activated a website outlining its vision for the future of MintChip -- described as "better than cash" and "so easy even a child can use it" -- and invited software developers to begin imagining different ways the technology could be employed.
In fact, the mint is offering $50,000 in an old-fashioned currency -- gold -- to winners of a contest aimed at developing smartphone apps and other ways of demonstrating MintChip's benefits as a payment system for consumers.
And Marc Brule, the mint's chief financial officer, is scheduled to provide details about the MintChip initiative at a speech in Toronto later this month during the Forum on Canadian Payment Innovations, sponsored by the Canadian Institute business think-tank.
The contest "is a way for us to enlist software developers in creating proofs-of-concept highlighting the potential advantages of such a technology," Christine Aquino, the mint's director of communications, told Postmedia News on Thursday.
The mint states at the MintChip website it has developed prototypes and has five patents pending on "innovative technology" underlying the cashless payment system.
The "virtual" currency would, however, have physical forms, including microSD cards and USB sticks -- the flash drives used to transfer files between computers.
"The easiest way to describe it is that it's a small chip like you would find in your phone," said Aquino, describing the project as "part of the mint's ongoing research and development efforts."
The federal agency says the MintChip "could become the digital equivalent of the coins we use every day," but also suggests cash transactions using $5 or $10 bills could also be replaced by the system.
-- Postmedia News