updated 10/6/2004 7:31:42 PM ET 2004-10-06T23:31:42

A leading Japanese electronics company is developing memory cards that can be used to make cashless payments, open locks and read identification with a simple flick.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., which makes Panasonic-brand products, said sample shipments will begin in December, with commercial shipments to follow by late next year.

The special memory cards will contain computer chips must as so-called smart cards do, enabling them to be read wirelessly by a special reader device.

Many Japanese people already flash their smart cards at station gates to get on commuter trains. New cell-phone models in Japan let people use the cards to buy soda at vending machines, pay restaurant bills and play games at a Tokyo arcade.

The technology now used for smart cards, FeliCa from Matsushita's rival Sony Corp., has smaller memory capacity of 32 kilobytes.

Matsushita's new smartSD Card connects to a separate 128-megabyte memory within the same chip.

With the expansion, the card can now be used to download movies or music and secure storage of documents, the company said. And the need for data capacity is bound to climb as smart cards grow more popular, said Matsushita director Masaki Akiyama.

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