Engineers at R&D company Xerox PARC have developed a computer chip that can explode on demand as part of DARPA’s Vanishing Programmable Resources project. The chips are designed to shatter into tiny pieces, ensuring that no one is able to reconstruct them and read their contents.
To create these Mission Impossible-style chips, the company used Corning’s Gorilla Glass – the kind found in many smartphones – and modified it to become tempered glass under extreme stress. The next step was to insert a small resistor at the bottom of the chip which, when heated with a laser, will obliterate the entire chip due to the invisible stress on the surface. The smaller bits continue shattering after the initial explosion due to the stress which remains in these fragments, leaving nothing but a pile of dust behind.
“We take the glass and we ion-exchange temper it to build in stress. What you get is glass that, because it’s heavily stressed, breaks it fragments into tiny little pieces […] The applications we are interested in are data security and things like that. We really wanted to come up with a system that was very rapid and compatible with commercial electronics,” said Gregory Whiting, a senior scientist at PARC.
In the video below, the self-destruct circuit is triggered using a laser but it could be designed to explode using anything from radio signals to a physical switch.
The chip is expected to be used in industries that require the highest levels of security, such as the military. It may eventually find some commercial applications, especially for those people who want the ultimate wipe for their data.