1. What is Veratag?
Formed in late 2006, Veratag
is a hardware technology company based in Ithaca, NY striving to enable the next major business model revolution – wireless transactions. They have developed unclonable microchips called MEMflakesTM, each of which contains nanoscale resonators with a unique frequency. The fact that they cannot be cloned and are unique allows the MEMflakes technology to be applied in numerous settings, such as door access cards, passports and military equipment. Veratag has overcome the challenges that limit other technologies, such as RFID- and NFC-enabled cell phones. Typically, in conventional technologies, power consumption and chip size increase dramatically with added security features; however, the power consumption of Veratag’s MEMflakes does not grow as security is augmented, nor does the amount of silicon real estate required to implement the circuitry. What’s more, Veratag chips are inexpensive and easily implemented because encryption and password sharing is not required.
2. How was Veratag created? Can you describe the relationships and collaborative efforts that were involved in bringing the technology to market?
Veratag was created out of research done at Cornell University’s Craighead Research Group. For years, the MEMS resonator community had tried to create resonator chips that were identical to each other, but no two chips ever behaved identically. Minute random process variations during manufacture always led to the creation of slightly different structures, which greatly impacted resonator behavior. Each chip possessed a distinct spectral "voiceprint" that was as unique as a snowflake, despite the researchers' best efforts to force uniformity. Ultimately, they realized they could "make lemonade out of lemons" by embracing this uniqueness, and MEMflakesTM were born.
The three co-founders of Veratag licensed the technology from Cornell. Mr. Eveleth and Mr. Schneiter have extensive experience in building technology companies from the ground up. Mr. Cross worked within the Craighead Research Group prior to Veratag and completed development work on Veratag’s technology platform.
3. What is the current status of Veratag? And what are Veratag’s plans for the future?
Veratag recently completed development of both wireless and contact-based identification systems based on the MEMflakes technology with funding provided by a Phase II SBIR grant from the National Science Foundation. Those prototype products are available for demonstration. Veratag recently applied for another Phase I SBIR grant from the National Science Foundation and intends to adapt the core MEMflakes technology for biometric encryption applications. There is growing interest in biometric encryption for applications such as cellular phone-based payments and securing identification documents such as ID cards and passports.
Vertag is targeting the payment, ID and transaction markets. There are also niche applications in military communications and supply chain anti-counterfeiting.
4. Who is on the Veratag team?
Dr. Joshua Cross, Founder and CEO
Dr. John Schneiter, Chairman
5. How was Veratag named?
Veratag was named by combining the words ‘veracity’ and ‘tag’. We chose ‘veracity’ because it means correctness, accuracy and conforming to truth. One of the problems with using conventional RFID products for applications requiring security is that conventional products lack sufficient security features. Thus, conventional products can be spoofed, cloned, copied, duplicated and otherwise hacked or compromised. MEMflakes cannot be hacked; they are always correct or true. The ‘tag’ part of the name comes from the common jargon for an RFID product like a credit card or ID card – they are called ‘RFID tags’.
6. What stage of development is Veratag in? Is this technology currently being used in the real world?
Veratag recently completed a Phase II SBIR grant from the National Science Foundation. Veratag has developed a complete demonstration system (chips, reader and software) and is actively seeking licensing opportunities, development partners or strategic acquirers.
7. Were there any obstacles that you overcame in the process of developing this technology or bringing it to market?
Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology is used in a variety of applications, such as accelerometers for air bag sensors and video game controllers (e.g., Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3 controllers). Veratag faced the challenge of developing MEMS technology for another application – free-running resonators. There are a number of signal processing, electrical engineering, and energy scavenging challenges associated with making free-running resonators. We were able to solve all of the challenges and develop a number of very functional prototype systems. We have a wireless system that operates essentially like a conventional RFID system. We also have a contact-based system that can be used for applications like user-to-terminal authentication through a USB-like fob. Additionally, the MEMflakes can be integrated with existing circuits to augment applications and products that already exist.
8. How would the use of this technology affect everyday consumers’ lives?
Ultimately, Veratag’s MEMflakes are the kind of technology that consumers would never notice. MEMflakes would be seamlessly woven into products that consumers use, such as credit cards or cellular phones, for new payment options. The back-end infrastructure would be integrated, assembled and deployed similar to the current point-of-sale terminals. Though consumers might not realize the technology exists, MEMflakes would secure private information, such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, names and address, and would protect privacy because the MEMflakes devices can only be interrogated with special equipment, and even then, the MEMflakes information cannot be tied directly to any particular person. In short, even though the work done by MEMflakes may be hard for consumers to notice in the short run, it makes their lives richer and more secure nonetheless.