The enemy of any manufacturing guru is variability. The obvious reason for this is that customers expect manufactured products to do what they’re marketed to do. But, there are also less apparent reasons around efficiency. For example, if step 1 of a manufacturing process introduces variability, then subsequent steps will likely need to be made more complex (which can introduce its own error and variability) to deal with it. This means the manufacturer will need to be able to deal with more delays and more testing and verification steps and potentially even more customer support to handle products which don’t perform as marketed. Is it any wonder that statistical process control techniques like Six Sigma are so prevalent in the manufacturing sector?
Verayo uses the fact that variability can never truly be eliminated from semiconductor manufacturing to create a “fingerprint” that can uniquely identify any manufactured chip. Those semiconductor process and/or cryptography guru’s can read more of the detail in a paper that MIT professor Srini Devadas wrote in 2002. But the concept is pretty simple. Verayo has created a technology they call PUF (Physically Unclonable Functions). PUFs are implemented as small modifications to a chip’s design which use the unique defects/quirks on each chip to produce a response to specific electronic “challenges.” Because no two chips have the same manufacturing “defects”, no two chips will have the same PUF responses to all possible challenges. This means the PUF effectively becomes a way to verify the identity of a given part which cannot be copied or duplicated!
This type of technology has countless applications. Verayo is particularly focused on the area of RFID (radio frequency identification) tags which are used to identify charge cards, transit cards, identification papers, and many sold products. Verayo’s hope is to use their PUF technology to create unique RFID tags which cannot be copied or cloned to help identify counterfeit products (which will have a counterfeit, and hence incorrect, PUF challenge response) or establish an individual’s identity (imitations of PUFs will, like counterfeit product PUFs, have an incorrect PUF challenge responses). The Verayo concept diagrams are below
It doesn’t solve all problems (as there are still definite vulnerabilities at the manufacturer/identity issuer site), but it’s a promising way to turn one company’s problems into another company’s innovation.