We're all used to seeing self-destructing messages in the movies; in real life, not so much. And Darpa, understandably, would prefer to avoid Hollywood's alternative method of disposing of redundant communications devices or sensors by eating them.
These days, the military uses large quantities of sophisticated electronics, in radios, remote sensors and phones. But while they've become something of a necessity, it's almost impossible to track and recover every device.
If left behind, though, they can be captured by the enemy and repurposed, or else studied to compromise DoD’s strategic technological advantage.
And this is where the self-destructing devices come in, with DARPA's new Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program. The aim is to develop devices with all the functionality and ruggedness of conventional electronics, but which, when triggered, can degrade partially or completely into their surroundings.
Once triggered to dissolve, they'd be useless to any enemy who might come across them.
"The commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, electronics made for everyday purchases are durable and last nearly forever," says DARPA program manager Alicia Jackson.
"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."
DARPA's now planning a Proposers’ Day, looking for basic research into materials, devices, manufacturing and integration processes, along with design methodology.
"DARPA has previously demonstrated that transient electronics might be used to fight infections at surgical sites. Now, we want to develop a revolutionary new class of electronics for a variety of systems whose transience does not require submersion in water," saysJackson.
"This is a tall order, and we imagine a multidisciplinary approach. 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."