In the old television version of “Mission Impossible,” Jim Phelps’ tape self-destructs after the voice says, “This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.”
Now if the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is successful, not only will the tape self-destruct, but the whole device will disappear.
The agency’s new Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program aims to develop a new generation of devices “capable of physically disappearing in a controlled, triggerable manner,” rendering the devices useless to the enemy.
Efforts to build degradable electronics have tended to rely on polymeric or biological materials, and that has resulted in poor electronic performance and “weak mechanical properties,” according to the agency.
“DARPA has previously demonstrated that transient electronics might be used to fight infections at surgical sites,” says Jackson. “Now, we want to develop a revolutionary new class of electronics for a variety of systems whose transience does not require submersion in water”.
The project is still a long away from being deployed in a real battle, and will require years of research.
DARPA doesn’t have the manpower or resources to develop these kinds of electronic devices by itself, and so now it’s reaching out for help from industry experts.
In the latest contract for the program, announced on January 31, DARPA provided $3.5 million to IBM for a proposal to use a radio frequency to shatter a glass coating on a silicon chip, reducing it to dust.
The Palo Alto Research Center in California received $2.1 million to build devices with dummy circuits that would be triggered to “crumble into small, sand-like particles in a fraction of a second.”
Defense giant BAE Systems was awarded $4.5 million on January 22 and Honeywell Corporation won a $2.5 million contract on December 3 for more “vanishing” technology research.
And DARPA announced in December a $4.7 million contract for SRI International to develop “SPECTRE” batteries designed to self-destruct.
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