Remember how not that long ago some researchers were able to produce a new breed of dissolving electronics? Well as it turns out, there are those who want to find a way to militarize this technology. Those people are the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), who are looking to create a breed of “suicide sensors” as part of what they call the VAPR (Vanishing Programmable Resources) program.
As it stands, war zones are often littered with “sophisticated electronic microsystems” that create enticing opportunities for adversaries to collect, study and reverse-engineer their enemy’s technology. And since it’s not practical for advanced armies to pick up all their microscopic gear when they withdraw from an area, it would be nice if there was a way to push a button that would cause all of those deployed electronics to dissolve, destruct or biodegrade.
Of particular interest is the “degradation” involving implants in a soldier’s body. Given DARPA’s efforts to develop super soldiers – enhanced with bionic limbs, cybernetics, and implantable sensors and medical devices – future armies will run the risk of seeing that technology fall into enemy hands whenever a soldier is killed or taken prisoner. Here especially, a super soldier would be inclined to see their advanced bio-implants to break down and be irretrievable.
In order to accomplish this, it will be inviting a number of companies to a Virginia conference to kick around ideas for creating what it calls “triggered degradation.” In a recent interview with Wired, program manager Dr. Alicia Jackson expressed the goal of the program as follows:
“VAPR will focus on developing and establishing a basic set of materials, components, integration, and manufacturing capabilities to undergird this new class of electronics defined by their performance and transience.”
Sometimes the hardware will be pre-programmed to self-destruct and in others biodegrade into the surrounding environment. In other cases, such as where human implants are concerned, the electronics will be triggered to dissolve into a liquid. In this last respect, DARPA is already making headway, as they demonstrated last year with a super-thin electronic circuit made out of silicon and magnesium could be fabricated to dissolve in liquid.
Naturally, DARPA concedes that things are not quite where they need to be for everything to work. As they stated in part of the VAPR press release, “key technological breakthroughs are required across the entire electronics production process, from starting materials to components to finished products.” But of course, where there is a will – and unlimited funding – there’s usually a way.