Tiny cryptographic ‘chip of everything’ aims to eliminate counterfeiting

21 Feb 2020

MIT researchers’ millimetre-sized ID chip. Image: Wasiq Khan et al/MIT News

This week in future tech, researchers have developed a tiny, battery-free ID chip to help combat losses to counterfeiting.

MIT researchers have invented a cryptographic ID tag that’s small enough to fit on virtually any product and verify its authenticity. Counterfeiters tend to go to great lengths to source products from all over the world – through complex routes – to make it hard to verify a product’s origin.

This means companies can end up with imitation parts, with $2trn of counterfeit goods estimated to be sold worldwide. While RFID tags are becoming increasingly popular as a way of authenticating parts, they are too large to fit on tiny objects such as silicon chips or medical components.

However, a new study described a millimetre-sized chip that runs on relatively low levels of solar power. It transmits data at great distances hundreds of times higher than RFIDs using a ‘backscatter’ technique.

The chip can also run a popular cryptography scheme that guarantees secure communication using extremely low energy.

The researchers call it the ‘tag of everything’. “Our chip can be seamlessly integrated into other electronic chips for security purposes, so it could have huge impact on industry,” said researcher Wasiq Khan. “Our chips cost a few cents each, but the technology is priceless.”

Flapping drone wings powered by the sun

Researchers writing in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces have revealed artificial wings that flap even faster than those of butterflies, powered by the sun alone. The tiny wings could one day be used in robots, drones or devices for solar harvesting.

Light-driven actuators – devices that convert light directly into mechanical work – have attracted attention because they are wireless and easy to control. However, keeping them going usually requires a permanent, high-intensity light source or additional hardware.

To make the device – dubbed the flexible bio-butterfly-wing (FBBW) – the researchers coated a thin polymer sheet with a nanocrystalline metallic film.

When one end of the FBBW strip was fixed to a support and had simulated sunlight shone on it, the temperature of the strip increased. The free end curled up because of the large difference in thermal expansion between the metal and polymer layers.

Then, the curved part of the FBBW shaded the metallic layer below, causing the temperature to drop and the strip to unfold. This happening over and over results in flapping wings.

Volocopter conducts flying taxi study for south-east Asia

German flying taxi start-up Volocopter is teaming up with the app Grab to conduct a joint feasibility study on urban air mobility for south-east Asia’s megacities.

The feasibility study will look into the most suitable cities and routes to deploy flying taxis in south-east Asian cities, evaluate the best-use cases for air taxis, and explore the possibility of joint flight tests, among other things.

“This cooperation is another important step towards the commercialisation of urban air mobility in one of the most traffic-congested regions of the world,” said Florian Reuter, CEO of Volocopter. “Together, we will learn from unprecedented insights into the economic and societal opportunity of launching our services on the hottest routes in the south-east Asian market.”

5G IoT revenue to reach $8bn by 2025

Juniper Researcher has published a report that found the total number of 5G connections as part of the internet of things (IoT) will reach 1.5bn globally by 2025 and will be worth $8bn, rising from more than $5m in 2019.

The research also forecasts that valued-added services will become crucial in the automotive and smart cities sectors.

It also forecasts that these sectors will account for 70pc of all 5G IoT connections by 2025, with higher than anticipated levels of device support for 5G radios accelerating the uptake of 5G connectivity.

“We believe that only 5pc of 5G connections will be attributable to the IoT, but as these are newly enabled connections, operators must view them as essential to securing a return on their 5G investment,” said research author, Andrew Knighton.

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic