A smartphone app containing quantum technology can be used to tackle counterfeit goods and potentially save lives.

Every year, imports of counterfeited and pirated goods around the world cost nearly half a trillion dollars in lost revenue. Counterfeit medicines alone cost the industry over $200 billion every year. They are also dangerous to our health – around a third contain no active ingredients, resulting in a million deaths a year.

As the Internet of Things expands, there is the need to trust the identity of smart systems, such as the brake system components within connected and driverless cars.

Researchers from Lancaster University and spin-out company Quantum Base, who are exhibiting at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition, have created unique atomic-scale IDs 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.

“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,” said Professor Robert Young of Lancaster University, a world-leading expert in quantum information and chief scientist at Quantum Base.

The app 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.

This patented technology and the related application can be expected to be available to the public in the first half of 2018, and it’s potential to fit on any surface or any product allows the technology to be used worldwide.

The research was supported by a Royal Society Fellowship and grants from the EPSRC.