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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
While being transported, the B-Boxes can’t be opened without triggering their content's destruction. The employee's PDA doesn’t contain the opening code. The opening code resides solely inside the memory of the B-Box, and it is not possible to calculate the code without having the B-Box, the employee's PDA and the customer's RFID tag number.
The EM Micro RFID system

The truck is tracked via the Global Positioning System. When it pulls up to the customer destination, its GPS coordinates match the preprogrammed cooordinates in the system. The system then activates the PDA, enabling it to send a message to the truck's reader that causes the B-Box to go into “pedestrian phase.” This means the B-Box does not require periodic messages from the truck's reader, although the B-Box remains in self-protection mode. Once inside the customer facility, the Brink’s employee's PDA reads the customer RFID tag ID and calculates the opening code for the B-Box.

The PDA transmits the code to the B-Box through the 868-MHz RFID link. The B-Box compares the code with the existing code in its memory. If the codes match, the B-Box unlocks itself, and the Brink’s employee is able to open the B-Box and remove the notes. If the codes don’t match, the B-Box remains locked and in self-protected mode until its batteries are close to low level or somebody tries to force the B-Box open. Either of those events will cause the destruction of notes.

The EM Microelectronic spokesman says the funds that are damaged by the system are not totally destroyed. About 50 percent of each note is burned, which is enough to prevent thieves from using them.

“Destruction of the banknotes is preferable to theft because they cannot be used anymore,” Besnard says. A destroyed note is returned to France's central bank and exchanged with new notes. French government regulations require that at least 20 percent of each side of the note must be present in order to be exchanged, he says.

Brink’s France has limited its use of the RFID system to the pilot program; so far no robbery has been attempted and therefore, no money has been destroyed. The company plans to roll the system out broadly by the middle of 2004. Besnard and the EM Microelectronic spokesman say the companies have not encountered any serious problems while testing or deploying the technology.

The Brink’s schedule calls for deploying 4,000 RFID-enabled B-Boxes in 2004, 15,000 in 2005, and an additional 15,000 each year for several years after that. Besnard says the development plan calls for 30,000 B-Boxes for Brink’s France, 30,000 for the rest of Brink’s Europe and 30,000 for Brink’s France customers who have agreed to take part in the program. The customers include La Poste (the French postal service), Paris Metro, French retailer Casino, and banks Credit Lyonnais and BNP Paribas.

Brink’s initially plans to use the technology only in Europe but will consider using the system in the U.S. market later on, says the EM Microelectronic spokesman. Ed Cunningham, a vice president with Dallas-based Brink’s in the United States, declines to comment on any security technology the company is using or plans to use.

The EM Microelectronic spokesman says other European funds transportation companies, as well as banks and retailers, have expressed interest in the system and will likely use it or something similar. He says a similar type of radio-controlled system could be deployed to secure high-value items in the supply chain—without destroying them, of course. For example, such a system could be used to trigger an alarm if valuable items such as PCs or works of art were removed from a detection field.

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