And that future is very, very close. It has been in the making for fifteen years behind the walls of the CNRS Hubert Curien laboratory. The American group HID has decided to accelerate a 6-year-old collaboration by investing in Saint-Etienne in a “joint laboratory” called LAMCID for Lasers, Materials and Colors for Citizen Identity Documents… One more application resulting from the research of the Jean-Monnet University around the use of lasers, surface treatment and nanotechnology.
“When our technology developed in Saint-Etienne, at LAMCID, will be ready, falsifying documents made with it will be science fiction”, assures Damien Cardinals. This Swiss is the vice-president of identity documents within the American group HID Global CID, a subsidiary of the giant of Swedish origin Assa Abloy (around 50,000 employees, €11 billion in turnover!) of which she alone is a component already somewhat beefy and also very international: we are talking about about 4,500 employees working all over the world for a turnover “confidential”. Its head office based in Austin, Texas concentrates “only” 400. HID develops and provides technology for securing official documents and access cards to identify individuals.
The company which presents itself as world leader in its field works for companies, education, governmental and financial institutions, hospitals. Since its inception, it has supplied more than 2 billion connected objects all over the world to the private and public sector. More than one State uses its services to affix security and authentication elements to their identity cards, passports or other more specific documents: Brazil, Argentina (with the first secure identity cards on smartphone), Italy, Ireland, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Hong-Kong, very recently Bahrain and finally, the United States where it has been, for 15 years, behind the anti-tampering elements integrated into the precious green card, the famous card authorizing a foreigner to reside there permanently.
A contract signed for 4 years
Originally, however, it was not HID but, in 2015, Arjo Systems, which the group bought out 2 years later, which knocked on the door of the CNRS Hubert-Curien laboratory. This French SME (100 employees) had grasped the major technology that could result from research carried out behind the walls of the Saint-Etienne lab. HID thus confirmed and then amplified the relationships forged with this flagship of Jean-Monnet’s scientific research before moving up a gear by signing a 4-year contract with the University of Saint-Etienne to create this shared laboratory, LAMCID. . In function since March, it is distributed, on the Manufacture campus, between the Forges building and nearby, the already existing premises of Hubert Curien. HID’s investment – again for “a confidential amount”replies Damien Cardinals – has in particular made it possible to acquire new equipment.
By settling for good in Saint-Etienne, we will probably take half as long to move forward.
Stéphane Ayala, project manager at HID, co-director of the LAMCID laboratory
But, also, to regroup HID resources hitherto dispersed, in particular in Suresnes in the Paris region. “By settling down for good in Saint-Etienne, it will probably take us half as long to move forward. Before, you had to send the test results far from here, have them analyzed, explain yourself remotely, etc. These round trips were time-consuming”, explains Stéphane Ayala, project manager at HID, one of the group’s three employees now working in Saint-Etienne. Two of them are also ex-doctoral students from the Hubert-Curien laboratory. They will have as colleagues three current Hubert-Curien researchers, not to mention new doctoral and post-doctoral students, likely to sign, too, at HID. Because it is a know-how but also human resources, “talent” that HID came to pick up in Saint-Etienne.
Laser technology at the service of safety
Thursday, June 9, during the official presentation of LAMCID, the president of the university Florent Pigeon who was a member then director of Hubert-Curien recalled that, behind the spectacular results and the social debates that it provokes, c ‘is on “the long time” what the research envisions. The genesis of the project, built step by step, article by article, goes back to 2006 and the persistence of Nathalie Destouches, now co-director of LAMCID alongside Stéphane Ayala, even if many other scientists who contributed, near or far, could be quoted. But “then a young researcher, we must remember her risk-taking, her not very obvious position to hold to guide her work which has brought us so faremphasizes Florent Pigeon. This should encourage our young researchers to insist when they sense an idea leading to a form of rupture. »
Thanks to the creation of new security elements from the laser technology developed in Saint-Etienne, the authentication and protection of official documents offered by HID should take a new step and give it a decisive lead over the competition. And there is plenty to work on when you know that 6,700 fraudulent documents were identified in 2018 within the Schengen area in 2018 or that 40,000 children’s identities were fraudulently used. But what have Nathalie Destouches, her colleagues and their teams been developing so new over all these years? Of course, the Hubert-Curien laboratory does not work on what is visible or semi-visible with light equipment, but on what is infinitely small, at the nanoscale, via the laser modification of particles of a comparable size. to the Covid virus.
The industrial stage within 2-3 years
“The process we are developing makes it possible to inscribe security elements not on the surface like an inking but inside the card itself. It covers both the laser, its use and the surface treated. We are able to modify the particles to print any color you want (laser inscriptions are currently primarily in black and white, otherwise on limited color ranges, Editor’s note) but also so that these colors an image, a photo are completely different according to such or such angle of observation. We are talking about multiplexed images. describes Nathalie Destouches, whose research has so far resulted in three patents and publications in numerous prestigious scientific journals.
The research carried out at LAMCID aims to improve the quality of encoded images for observation with the naked eye, to develop nanostructured materials that exhibit optical properties that do not yet exist, to characterize and explain these new optical properties, and to integrate materials, processes and digital processing on an industrial scale. Before an industrial stage – which should not be expected in Saint-Etienne – allowing the production of plastic cards equipped with these security elements “unique and innovative”. HID hopes to achieve this within a relatively short time: 2 years. Which does not mean that it will be a “one shot” for the American group. Because the race against counterfeiting is permanent and “there will always be things to perfect, improve, new requests”.