Imagine coating an expensive part with a layer of diamond dust the width of a human hair, capturing its light pattern as a unique identifier, then storing that identifier in a traditional database or on the blockchain. That’s precisely what Dust Identity, a Boston-based startup, is trying to do, and today it got $2.3 million in seed money led by Kleiner Perkins with participation from New Science Ventures, Angular Ventures and Castle Island Ventures.
The science behind Dust Identity was nurtured inside MIT, but the company has been at work for two years trying to build a solution based on that idea after receiving early support from DARPA. What these folks do is manufacture extremely tiny diamonds. They dust an object such as a circuit board with a coating of this and capture the diamonds in a polymer, company CEO and co-founder Ophir Gaathon explained.
“Once the diamonds fall on the surface of a polymer epoxy, and that polymer cures, the diamonds are fixed in their position, fixed in their orientation, and it’s actually the orientation of those diamonds that we developed a technology that allows us to read those angles very quickly,” Gaathon told TechCrunch.
For all the advanced technology at play here, Dust Identity is truly an identity company, but instead of identifying an individual, its purpose is to provide a trusted identity for an object using a physical anchor — in this case, diamond dust. You may be thinking that diamonds are kind of an expensive way to achieve this, but as it turns out, the company is actually creating the coating materials from low-cost diamond industrial waste.
“We start with diamond waste (for example, [from] the abrasive industry), but we developed a proprietary process (that’s of course highly scalable and economical) to purify and engineer the diamond waste into dust,” a company spokesperson explained.
The idea behind all of this is to prove that an object is valid and hasn’t been tampered with. The dust is applied at some point during the manufacturing process. The unique identifier is captured with some kind of commercial scanner and stored in the database. It provides a physical anchor for blockchain supply chain solutions that’s currently lacking. When the part makes its way to the buyer, they can run the part under a scanner and make sure it matches. If the dust pattern has been disturbed, there’s a good chance the piece was tampered with.
Finding a way to create uncopyable tags for physical objects is a kind of supply chain Holy Grail. Ilya Fushman, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, says his firm recognized the potential of this solution. “We have a pretty strong hard tech practice. We understand the value of supply chain and supply chain integrity,” he said.
The company is not alone in trying to find a way to attach a physical anchor to items in the supply chain. In fact, you can go back to RFID tags and QR codes, but Gaathon says the security of these approaches has degraded over time as hackers figure out how to copy them. IBM and others are working on tiny chips to attach to objects, but the diamond dust approach could be the most secure if it can scale because it works with an entirely random light pattern that can never be reproduced.
The startup intends to take the money and try to prove this idea can be commercialized for government and manufacturing use cases. It certainly gets points for creativity here and it could be onto something that could transform how we track the integrity of items as they move through a supply chain.