Vanishing Transient Electronics The Focus Of New DARPA Project
January 29, 2013

DARPA Wants To Create Self-destructible Hardware

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

In yet another instance in a long line of attempting to bring science fiction to real life, DARPA has invited scientists to help them create Vanishing Programmable Resources, or VAPR. In other words, hardware that self-destructs on command.

Such hardware with a very real deadline could be particularly useful on the battlefield, where all sorts of technology, including cell phones and sensors are absolutely required material. Once the conflict has resolved, however, it can be extremely difficult to locate each piece of technology which has been destroyed or left behind. And, of course, it´s important to go back and retrieve this material before the enemy can, allowing them to reverse engineer the hardware and possible happen upon some classified information. The proposed self-destructing hardware – or better known around DARPA as “Transient electronics” – could be destroyed remotely or manually via trigger.

Though these electronics will be made to ultimately be destroyed, DARPA has said it was also important to make these components as rugged and war-ready as existing hardware. When the destruct trigger is signaled, however, they should disappear into their surroundings, becoming useless to the enemy.

“The commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, electronics made for everyday purchases are durable and last nearly forever,” explained Alicia Jackson, a program manager at DARPA in a recent statement.

“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.”

Last year, DARPA showed off a similar technology, developing super-thin circuit boards out of magnesium and silicon which could be totally dissolved in liquid. In an interview with Wired, Jackson has said the VAPR program builds on top of this existing research, starting first with a destructible circuit.

“The efficacy of the technological capability developed through VAPR will be demonstrated by building transient sensors with RF links, representative of what might be used to sense environmental or biomedical conditions and communicate with a remote user.” For example, Jackson mentions using sensors in a forest or desert meant to gather data for a pre-determined set of time. Once the weather gets too hot in the desert or the rain begins to wash through the forest, these sensors could disappear into their environment, never to be traced.

In the future, DARPA may even begin using such destructible tech in surgery and other medical applications, such as monitors that can be resorbed into the body. As of right now, Jackson says the agency is looking for a safe, “bioresorbable” material which can be used in such applications.

As you might expect, making such “transient” electronics when no such tech has ever existed will be a long process. That´s why DARPA has asked those interested scientists to join them in researching these kinds of materials and help them create these kinds of hardware.

“This is a tall order, and we imagine a multidisciplinary approach,” says Jackson, in closing.

“Teams will likely need industry experts who understand circuits, integration, and, design. Performers from the material science community will be sought to develop novel substrates.  There's lots of room for innovation by clever people with diverse expertise.”