DARPA to make self destructing phones

Alex Walls
February 4, 2013

Oh, that DARPA.

For those of us who don’t follow the Defense Advanced Research Agency obsessively (and it’s well worth doing so), DARPA is the outfit responsible for the 100 Year Starship Study, a project to encourage business plans for interstellar travel, as well as being partially responsible for this whole thing called the Interweb.

And now, it’s proposing self-destructing phones.

DARPA says electronics used in the field, including phones, are pervasive on the battlefield, due to low manufacturing costs.   While necessary for operations, it was almost impossible to track and recover every device and could often be found scattered across the battlefield, to be possibly re-used by the enemy or just plain studied for technological clues.

So DARPA has announced the Vanishing Programmable Resources program (VAPR) with the aim of developing “transient” electronics (you know, ones that roam the countryside) that work fine, are hard wearing but are able to dissolve, partially or completely, when triggered.

“Once triggered to dissolve, these electronics would be useless to any enemy who might come across them.”

I mean, it makes sense, but part of me wonders whether DARPA is just some giant trolling enterprise with the amount of gleefully amazing and bonkers stuff it decides to study.

First there were the robotic cheetah and then there was the National Cyber Range, an Internet simulator which mimics human behaviour to practice cyber warfare.

At any rate, while   commercial electronics last “nearly forever”, according to DARPA program manager Alicia Jackson (really?!), DARPA was looking for a way to make electronics that lasted as long as they were 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.”

There’s a Proposers’ Day to be held ahead of an actual solicitation and agency announcement, it said.   It sought to finish with a technology demonstration that built a circuit “representative of an environmental or biomedical sensor that is able to communicate with a remote user.”

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