While AT&T wants to transform your cell phone into a credit card, one Massachusetts vending-machine company is trying to do the same with your thumb. The prototype vending machines from Next Generation Vending and Food Service eliminate the need for cash and coins by scanning a user's thumbprint and linking it to his credit card. Here's a quick briefing:

Is this really necessary?
The concept of the touch vending machine is compelling: No more scrounging your pockets for quarters and cursing a machine when it steals them. Still, says says Sean Patrick Kelly in New York Press, it could also be unnecessarily invasive. The prospect of giving your thumbprint and credit card information to a machine that sits unguarded all day seems less than safe.

When can I try one out?
Next Generation hopes to distribute the machines nationally in 2011, after testing about 60 units throughout the Northeast.
Will linking our credit cards to our bodies catch on?
Similarly futuristic apparatuses just debuted in Japan, where they have drawn major crowds, says Sam Dunne in Core77 magazine. Stateside, Southern Refreshment Services already utilizes a different form of cashless technology, and claims to have doubled its sales. Next Generation president John loannou, as quoted at MyFoxNY.com, says his prototype machines are getting "extraordinary" (and presumably positive) feedback already. "Everything is more fun when enacted as a video game," notes David Zax in Fast Company.

Could this signal the future obsolescence of credit cards?
"Start saving your coins and notes now," says Mike Hanlon in Gizmag. The rise of the Intelligent Vending Machine (IVM) "may well herald the beginning of the end for cold hard cash and the start of a growing digital economy." While Core77's Dunne concurs that traditional vending machines are on their way out, it's worth noting that the new machines haven't made the candy-buying process entirely painless: You still have to bend down to retrieve your purchase.

Sources: New York Press, Core77 magazine, MyFoxNY.com, Fast Company, Gizmag