A new technology via a smart phone app could make counterfeiting impossible

via Lancaster University

First ever demo of patented technology via a smartphone app aims to eliminate counterfeiting.

Counterfeit products are a huge problem – from medicines to car parts, fake technology costs lives.

Every year, imports of counterfeited and pirated goods around the world cost nearly US $0.5 trillion in lost revenue. Counterfeit medicines alone cost the industry over US $200 billion every year. They are also dangerous to our health – around a third contain no active ingredients, resulting in a million deaths a year.

And as the Internet of Things expands, there is the need to trust the identity of smart systems, such as the brake system components within connected and driverless cars.

But researchers exhibiting at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition (4 – 9 July 2017) believe we are on the verge of a future without fakes thanks to new quantum technology developed by a team at Lancaster University.

Whether aerospace parts or luxury goods, the researchers say their new technology will make counterfeiting impossible.

The scientists have created unique atomic-scale ID’s based on the irregularities found in 2D materials like graphene.

On an atomic scale, quantum physics amplifies these irregularities, making it possible to ‘fingerprint’ them in simple electronic devices and optical tags.

The team from Lancaster University and spin-out company Quantum Base will be announcing their new patent in optical technology to read these imperfections at their “Future without Fakes” exhibit at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition (opens today, 3rd July 2017).

For the first time, the team will be showcasing this new technology via a smartphone app which can read whether a product is real or fake, and enable people to check the authenticity of a product through their smartphones.

The customer will be able to scan the optical tag on a product with a smartphone, which will match the 2D tag with the manufacturer’s database.

This has the potential to eradicate product counterfeiting and forgery of digital identities, two of the costliest crimes in the world today.

This patented technology and the related application can be expected to be available to the public in the first half of 2018, and it’s potential to fit on any surface or any product allows the technology to be used worldwide.

Professor Robert Young of Lancaster University, world leading expert in quantum information and Chief scientist at Quantum Base says: “It is wonderful to be on the front line, using scientific discovery in such a positive way to wage war on a global epidemic such as counterfeiting, which ultimately costs both lives and livelihoods alike”.

Learn more: A future without fakes thanks to quantum technology

 

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Tiny particles could help verify goods

Illustration: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

Chemical engineers hope smartphone-readable microparticles could crack down on counterfeiting.

Some 2 to 5 percent of all international trade involves counterfeit goods, according to a 2013 United Nations report. These illicit products — which include electronics, automotive and aircraft parts, pharmaceuticals, and food — can pose safety risks and cost governments and private companies hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

Many strategies have been developed to try to label legitimate products and prevent illegal trade — but these tags are often too easy to fake, are unreliable, or cost too much to implement, according to MIT researchers who have developed a new alternative.

Led by MIT chemical engineering professor Patrick Doyle and Lincoln Laboratory technical staff member Albert Swiston, the researchers have invented a new type of tiny, smartphone-readable particle that they believe could be deployed to help authenticate currency, electronic parts, and luxury goods, among other products. The particles, which are invisible to the naked eye, contain colored stripes of nanocrystals that glow brightly when lit up with near-infrared light.

These particles can easily be manufactured and integrated into a variety of materials, and can withstand extreme temperatures, sun exposure, and heavy wear, says Doyle, the senior author of a paper describing the particles in the April 13 issue of Nature Materials. They could also be equipped with sensors that can “record” their environments — noting, for example, if a refrigerated vaccine has ever been exposed to temperatures too high or low.

The paper’s lead authors are MIT postdoc Jiseok Lee and graduate student Paul Bisso. MIT graduate students Rathi Srinivas and Jae Jung Kim also contributed to the research.

‘A massive encoding capacity’

The new particles are about 200 microns long and include several stripes of different colored nanocrystals, known as “rare earth upconverting nanocrystals.” These crystals are doped with elements such as ytterbium, gadolinium, erbium, and thulium, which emit visible colors when exposed to near-infrared light. By altering the ratios of these elements, the researchers can tune the crystals to emit any color in the visible spectrum.

To manufacture the particles, the researchers used stop-flow lithography, a technique developed previously by Doyle. This approach allows shapes to be imprinted onto parallel flowing streams of liquid monomers — chemical building blocks that can form longer chains called polymers. Wherever pulses of ultraviolet light strike the streams, a reaction is set off that forms a solid polymeric particle.

In this case, each polymer stream contains nanocrystals that emit different colors, allowing the researchers to form striped particles. So far, the researchers have created nanocrystals in nine different colors, but it should be possible to create many more, Doyle says.

Using this procedure, the researchers can generate vast quantities of unique tags. With particles that contain six stripes, there are 1 million different possible color combinations; this capacity can be exponentially enhanced by tagging products with more than one particle. For example, if the researchers created a set of 1,000 unique particles and then tagged products with any 10 of those particles, there would be 1030 possible combinations — far more than enough to tag every grain of sand on Earth.

“It’s really a massive encoding capacity,” says Bisso, who started this project while on the technical staff at Lincoln Lab. “You can apply different combinations of 10 particles to products from now until long past our time and you’ll never get the same combination.”

“The use of these upconverting nanocrystals is quite clever and highly enabling,” says Jennifer Lewis, a professor of biologically inspired engineering at Harvard University who was not involved in the research. “There are several striking features of this work, namely the exponentially scaling encoding capacities and the ultralow decoding false-alarm rate.”

Versatile particles

The microparticles could be dispersed within electronic parts or drug packaging during the manufacturing process, incorporated directly into 3-D-printed objects, or printed onto currency, the researchers say. They could also be incorporated into ink that artists could use to authenticate their artwork.

Read more . . .

 

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