“This message will self-destruct in five, four, three…” You’ve no doubt seen a scenario like this in spy movies or even cartoon shows but thanks to a recent contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), it could soon become a reality.
Last year, the agency announced intentions to build similar technology and put a call out for partners. The plan was to develop a device that when triggered, could degrade partially or completely into its surroundings.
IBM answered the call and was awarded a $3.45 million contract last month to move forward with the project. Known as Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR), the program will develop an entirely new class of electronics.
Alicia Jackson, DARPA program manager, noted at the time that commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, electronics made for everyday purchases are durable and last nearly forever. What they are looking for, however, is a way to make electronics that last precisely as long as they are needed.
IBM will be experimenting with glass shattering techniques that could ultimately turn a functioning silicon chip into an unusable powder. DARPA said a trigger, like a fuse or a reactive metal layer, could be used to initiate the shattering process.
As you’ve probably already guessed, the technology would be used inside of spy gear or other devices on the battlefield like radios, remote sensors and phones. DARPA isn’t fond of gadgets like these being scattered across the battlefield where they could ultimately end up being captured by the enemy and repurposed or studied to gain a technological advantage.