Bitcoin, the decentralized and anonymous (or almost-anonymous) digital currency, has been a top headline grabber in 2012.

And for good reason: Bitcoin has not only gained more adoption than skeptics could have imagined possible, but it has created a fascinating discussion around how currency will evolve in the 21st century.

Bitcoin’s future, of course, is still far from certain. The currency has experienced a high level of volatility, and numerous security incidents have left many wondering if it can ever truly go mainstream.

But one thing is certain: Bitcoin is creating interest in interesting places. Case in point: the Royal Canadian Mint, which is responsible for minting all of the coins in circulation in Canada, has launched MintChip, a Bitcoin-like digital currency. Dubbed “the evolution of currency”, the Mint says MintChip “brings all the benefits of cash into the digital age” in an “instant, private and secure” manner.

Unlike Bitcoin, the Mint isn’t unleashing MintChip into the wild. Instead, it’s launched a MintChimp challenge. The goal: get developers “to create innovative digital payment applications using MintChip.” To woo them, it’s offering $50,000 in gold bullion to the winners, who will be selected by judges from the tech, retail, media and venture capital industries.

The Mint has published a development guide for developers interested in participating in the MintChip Challenge, and APIs are available for Android, Blackberry and .NET. Only 500 developers will be allowed to participate, most likely because MintChip, which is based on a value store account hosted on a microSD card, USB stick, physical machine, or in the cloud, requires that participating developers be provided with two microSD MintChips and two remote MintChip accounts.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the MintChip Challenge plays out, and what the Mint decides to do with MintChip long-term, if anything. But the mere interest of an institution like The Royal Canadian Mint in a Bitcoin-like digital currency suggests that within the next decade we could see dramatic change and innovation around ‘money’ and how we exchange it.