Nanotechnology is being used in a number of anti-counterfeiting techniques. There are those that are still at a fairly preliminary stage of their development and others that are well-established commercial interests.
Now a new company, Vancouver, Canada-based NanoTech Security Corp., is bringing a nanotech-based, anti-counterfeiting technology to market that operates on the same principle as the iridescent wings of the Blue Morpho butterfly.
Researchers have mimicked the Morpho wing structure as the basis for developing nanostructures before. In at least one case, it involved removing the actual scales from the butterfly wing and doping them with carbon nanotubes for improved thermal imaging.
NanoTech Security’s approach merely mimics the Morpho and forgoes the removal of the wing’s scales. The technique they developed involves using an electron beam to engrave nanoscale inscriptions into a material that are smaller than a wavelength of visible light. At this size, the light is captured in the same way that the Morpho’s iridescent wings operate.
In actual operation, when a product has been marked in this way it will produce a bright flickering image—like a hologram—whenever the light striking it changes, such as when someone walks between a light source and the object.
In addition to being difficult to duplicate, as are some quantum cash proposals, anti-counterfeiting marks have to be mass produced. Unfortunately, using an electron beam to carve out nanostructures in purse clasps doesn’t seem to lend itself to economies of scale.
However, the team at NanoTech Security argues that only creating the initial master is difficult and time consuming. After the master has been created, the pattern can be duplicated in a roll-to-roll process. But the roll-to-roll process cannot be executed without the master, thwarting any other duplication attempts.
The Vancouver-based company has been spent the last several years refining their processes to the point where the company has shipped its first masters and expects to see products using the technique in 2013.
The key for any counterfeiting technology is finding the price point at which their added-value technique does not add so much to the product’s cost that it scares away buyers. Based on that understanding, it should be interesting to see the value of the products that first adopt the technology.
Photo: Didier Descouens/Wikipedia
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.