The Mission: Impossible TV show famously started most episodes with a tape recorded mission message that ended with: "This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds, good luck Jim." Then it melted down in a burst of smoke and flame.
DARPA researchers seem to want to take that sort of destructive notion quite a few steps further by designing electronics - particularly smart phones and other devices - that can melt or at least partially dissolve to the point that they would be useless to anyone else who came across them.
From DARPA: The Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program has the aim of revolutionizing the state of the art in transient electronics or electronics capable of dissolving into the environment around them. Transient electronics developed under VAPR should maintain the current functionality and ruggedness of conventional electronics, but, when triggered, be able to degrade partially or completely into their surroundings. Rendering them useless to an enemy.
DARPA says that because "sophisticated electronic microsystems can now be made at such low cost that they are increasingly pervasive throughout the battlefield and large numbers can be widely proliferated and used for applications such as distributed remote sensing and communications. However, it is nearly impossible to track and recover every device, resulting in unintended accumulation in the environment as well as subsequent unauthorized use and compromise of IP and technological advantage."
"DARPA is looking for a way to make electronics that last precisely as long as they are needed. The breakdown of such devices could be triggered by a signal sent from command or any number of possible environmental conditions, such as temperature," said Alicia Jackson, DARPA program manager.
DARPA said it expects VAPR research will develop what it calls a number of revolutionary and meaningful military capabilities including sensors for conventional indoor or outdoor environments, environmental monitoring over large areas, and simplified diagnosis, treatment, and health monitoring in the field. Large-area distributed networks of sensors that can decompose in the natural environment may provide critical data for a specified duration, but no longer. Alternatively, devices that resorb into the body could be promising transient electronic implants to aid in continuous health monitoring in the field.
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