Scientists from Lancaster University develop technology that can create unique atomic scale ID's compatible with a smartphone app
Counterfeit products are a huge problem — from fragrances to shampoos, fake technology costs lives.
Every year, counterfeit cosmetics alone cost the UK industry over £200m. They are also dangerous to our health; around a third of counterfeit medicines contain no active ingredients, resulting in a million deaths a year.
Researchers exhibiting at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition 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.
When light is shone on the 2D material, tiny imperfections shine causing the material to emit light. This glow can be measured as a signal, unique only to that small section of material.
The signal can be turned into a number sequence, which acts as a digital fingerprint. The small flakes, which are invisible to the human eye and 1/1000th of a human hair can added to everyday items such as money, credit cards, passports and gig tickets.
A smartphone app can then read a photo to tell the unique signal from the flakes and detect whether the product is genuine or fake through the right fingerprint or wrong fingerprint.
Due to the materials used, the small tags could be edible and coated onto medicines. At the moment HIV drugs in Africa have widespread counterfeiting issues, which cost the industry billions each year and more significantly, human lives.
Coating the drugs and packaging would enable verification of the supply chain, allowing the patient to check the medicines they are taking are genuine products, by scanning the tablet with their smartphone.
Compared with other anti-counterfeiting goods, such as holograms, security inks and taggants, the miniscule graphene identity tags are completely unique, have a track and trace ability and could be turned off at any point, which could be used if a batch of products are stolen or lost at any point in the supply chain.
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.
Professor Robert Young of Lancaster University, world leading expert in quantum information and Chief Scientist at Quantum Base, said: “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.”
The team from Lancaster University and spin-out company Quantum Base will be announcing its new patent in optical technology to read these imperfections at their “Future without Fakes” exhibit at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition (3–9 July 2017).
This patented technology and the related application can be expected to be available to the public in the first half of 2018, and its potential to fit on any surface or any product allows the technology to be used worldwide.