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Brink's Arms Itself with RFID

To thwart robbers, the world's biggest security transportation company has worked with RFID systems provider EM Microelectronic to develop an innovative RFID-enabled money box that self-destructs.
By Bob Violino
Dec 01, 2003Brink’s Inc., founded in 1859 by Perry and Fidelia Brink, is the oldest and largest security transportation business in the world. The company provides services worldwide, including deliveries by armored truck, cash counting, cash management and coin processing. Its very name congers up images of armored trucks hauling shipments of cash to and from banks.
Ink staining versus acid

The company is proud of its history and heritage—its Web site, for example, points out that Brink’s handled luggage for delegates to the Republican presidential convention in Chicago in 1860 when Abraham Lincoln was nominated. Brink’s has transported the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the first rock samples astronauts brought back from the moon and the world’s largest uncut diamond, among other valuables.

Whenever possible, Brink’s also strives to use new technologies to help safeguard security personnel and the property of its customers. It was operating gasoline-powered vehicles in 1904, just a year after Henry Ford started the Ford Motor Co., and used the first fully armored vehicle in 1927. A more recent case in point is Brink’s subsidiary in France. In Europe, trucks are smaller and have half the armor of U.S. trucks, and the police generally respond less quickly to crime as their counterparts in the United States. Because of these differences, Brink's France is testing an RFID-based system that performs a unique function: banknote shipments that self-destruct when someone tries to steal them from an armored car.

The pilot for the new system, which began in June, comes at a time when robbers increasingly have targeted the funds transport industry, and the attacks have become increasingly violent, according to Brink’s. During the past five years, the company's vehicles have been held up 15 times in Europe. In some countries, including France, the government is encouraging the transport industry to use electronic devices that destroy funds when someone is trying to pilfer them. The hope is that this will discourage theft and thereby reduce the number of crime-related injuries or fatalities to personnel.

Currently, most funds transport companies use exploding dye packs to mark the stolen notes as means to discourage robberies (anyone trying to use a note smeared with dye risks being arrested). But Brink’s determined that dyeing is always reversible. Banknotes are made with cellulose that is similar to the material used in T-shirts, says Philippe Besnard, research and development manager at Brink’s in Paris. If a shirt is dyed or stained with ink, the dye or stain can be removed with commercial products. The same is true with the notes. Anyone who steals banknotes could remove the die and reuse them.

This discovery caused a “shock” among the central bank, bank customers and France's Internal Affairs Ministry, says Besnard: "All other companies are still using dyeing [technology] from 15 years ago.” But Brink’s has developed and patented a destruction technology based on the oxidation of the cellulose with strong acids and triggered by a battery-powered RFID tag.

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