Edible bar codes to thwart counterfeit drugs

Knockoff goods siphon $1 trillion a year from the global economy. This safe-to-eat technology lets companies mark products ranging from medicine and baby formula to car parts.

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This month, Honolulu-based startup TruTag Technologies is bringing to market edible bar codes that can be integrated directly into both edible and non-edible products. Businessweek reports.

These TruTags are the size of a speck of dust (a gram contains over 12 million unique tags), and they can be scanned to authenticate a product.

TruTags are made entirely of silicon dioxide, also called silica, a compound that is inert, edible, and incredibly durable (with an infinite shelf life and the ability to survive temperatures up to 1,000C).

  • Microscopic bar codes are etched into silica wafers using equipment similar to the semiconductor industry’s.
  • The engraved wafers are ground into a white powder that can be mixed directly into foodstuffs (like baby formula) or incorporated into the coatings of pills.
  • These safe-to-eat tags also work for non-edible goods, such as car parts and cell phone components.
  • Once the marked goods are scanned, sending decoded information to iPads or iPhones reveals details such as where and when the product was manufactured.

Counterfeit goods siphon off $1 trillion annually from the global economy, according to the International Chamber of Commerce. Counterfeit drugs alone generated an estimated $75 billion in revenue in 2010.

The technology was partly funded by the U.S. military. The company is in discussion with several corporations, including pharmaceutical manufacturers.

But the ultimate goal is to make TruTag available at the consumer level. If they could actually incorporate the technology into a smartphone, any consumer could authenticate their own drugs or baby milk powder by themselves.

[Businessweek]

Image: Taki Steve via Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com