A team led by the University of Florida’s Dr. Roozbeh Tabrizian and Dr. Swarup Bhunia has demonstrated a product-labeling approach based on resonant nano-electro-mechanical systems (NEMS), reportedly overcoming the limitations of current labeling systems for product identification and authentication.

The new technology enables integration of nano-scale wireless identification labels on products in categories that include electronics, plastic and glass objects, documents such as passports, photos, paintings, tickets, and currency, and food and pharmaceuticals.

As the threat of product counterfeiting continues to grow, the challenge of developing effective and secure identification and authentication approaches has become critical. Counterfeiting attacks affect the global supply chain by targeting a wide range of goods, including consumer electronic systems, currency, medicine and food products. The complexity of globally distributed supply chains for the majority of products increases their vulnerability to counterfeiting.

Besides the large-scale economic effects of counterfeiting, the global trade of specific counterfeit goods — such as food, medicine and pesticides — carries with it serious health and safety implications. As such, the security of the global supply chain depends upon protection from the effects of counterfeiting attacks. In response, various identification and authentication techniques have been used to enable traceability of genuine products and identification of their fake counterparts. These techniques include universal product code (UPC) barcodes, quick response (QR) codes and radio-frequency identification tags (RFID). Such techniques rely on the designation of a digital label, through the physics of a specific operation, to a physical tag that is attached or imprinted on the product. The digital label enables traceability and authentication of the host.

Although relatively successful in controlling and combatting the growth of counterfeiting, these methods suffer from limitations that make a label vulnerable to cloning, tampering, damage/distortion and abolishment.

According to Dr. Tabrizian, “The novel nano-scale labels operate based on the intentional or randomized encryption of a digital string in the spectral signature of a resonant NEMS. The spectral signature of the NEMS label contains several high quality-factor peaks at different frequencies that correspond to different natural mechanical resonance modes of the label. These peaks can be detected through wireless interrogation of the label using low-power wideband electromagnetic readers (a mobile phone app or another type of customized wireless reader). The interrogated spectral signature of the NEMS label is then translated to a digital string through specialized interpretation software.”

Dr. Bhunia explained, “this disruptive wireless ID technology possesses is unique in its ultra-miniaturized size and optical transparency, which makes it extremely challenging to be located, cloned, tampered with, or removed.” Dr. Tabrizian adds, “an additional benefit to the system is the low cost of production of the labels — the semiconductor batch manufacturing process enables creation of a millions of labels in a single run.”

The features of the NEMS labels make them suitable for creating both watermarks as well as fingerprints. The University of Florida team believes this technology can transform product authentication and identification approaches and significantly improve the safety of the supply chain to malicious counterfeiting attacks.

The research appears in Nature’s Microsystems and Nanoengineering

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