A cryptocurrency company wants to scan the eyeballs of billions of people in exchange for digital coins.

Worldcoin said it has already registered iris-scans of 130,000 people, using a device called the “Orb” it has developed, and is hoping to ramp up to hit a billion people within two years.

The cryptocurrency start-up is aiming to use the scans as a form of verification to dish out a supply of 10 billion cryptocurrency tokens. The iris scans would be used to prevent people receiving multiple payouts.

The bizarre project has received $25m from investors, including early Facebook backer Andreessen Horowitz, and is valued at $1bn.

Sam Altman, the American technology investor and entrepreneur behind the project, has suggested its tokens could form the basis of a new cryptocurrency-based economy, or of a form of universal basic income.

In a blog post, Mr Altman and Alex Blania, chief executive, said: “To get its new currency into the hands of as many people as possible, Worldcoin will allow everyone to claim a free share.

“For this to happen, we first had to solve one major challenge: ensuring that every person on Earth can prove they are indeed human (not a bot) and that they have not received their free share of Worldcoin already.”

The founders admitted the outlandish project could fail to take off. “Nothing like this has ever been done before and the outcome is uncertain,” they said.

The eye scans will be turned into a line of code, and no image will be stored or recorded, the company said. Worldcoin said it would begin signing up users using its Orb in five countries initially, before deploying Orbs globally to attract users.

The Orb weighs 2.5kg, is 20 centimetres in diameter, and will be given to entrepreneurs who will try to sign up as many users as possible, in exchange for being paid in Worldcoins.

The cryptocurrency linked to the project has yet to be released, but is not expected before 2022. The project runs the risk of confusion with another cryptocurrency effort, also called Worldcoin.

The launch comes as Bitcoin, the original cryptocurrency, reached a new record price this week of around $66,000. Analysts have said investors are looking to the digital coin as a hedge against inflation.