Most military technology needs to be extremely robust to stand up to extreme temperatures, dust and the risk of impact. But the US military is now funding an IBM project to make electronic gadgets that can be utterly destroyed.
IBM has won a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the closest thing the US has to Q in the Bond movies. The contract is part of the VAPR program, which thankfully has nothing to do with bogus promises of forthcoming software, but instead stands for Vanishing Programmable Resources.
It aims to solve the problem that while electronic hardware used by the miltary has to be tough, there’s a risk of it falling into the wrong hands and enemies being able to retrieve sensitive data.
IBM will receive just short of $3.5 million under the contract. It will be required to not only develop the idea, but to design the materials and components involved and then set up a manufacturing facility.
Its proposal is based around the idea of coating the circuit boards with a thin layer of glass that’s been specially developed to shatter in a particular way when needed. The goal is to have the glass shatter with such force that in turn the chips simply dissolve into a pile of silicon and silicon dioxide powder (pictured, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)
There’ll be some form of radio frequency trigger that will either set off a fuse or a reaction in a metal layer to create the force needed to shatter the glass. The precise details of how the trigger will work haven’t been revealed, possibly for security reasons and possibly because that aspect is still in development.
The IBM deal follows another contract awarded under the VAPR program, this time for a self-destructing battery. SRI International got $4.7 million last December to develop SPECTRE, or Stressed Pillar-Engineered CMOS Technology Readied for Evanescence. It’s likely to use silicon-air batteries in which oxygen from the surrounding air is used as the cathode, greatly reducing the battery’s weight.