At the beginning of every Inspector Gadget episode, the detective got a note from his boss, Chief Quimby detailing the mission. At the end of every note was the reminder that the message would self destruct once Gadget was done reading it.
This is a common movie trope. Self-destructing space ships, hard drives, notes—if it has important information on it, it will blow itself up. But in reality, self-destructing objects aren’t nearly as common. Now, DARPA is trying to build technology that will take its own life. The project is called Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) and the whole goal is to make self-destructing chips.
The technology being developed by IBM under a $3.45 million award will use a glass substrate that shatters when an attached “fuse or reactive metal layer” receives an external radio frequency signal. That sort of command self-destruct would make it possible to destroy electronics lost or abandoned on the battlefield over a large area, and it would prevent scenarios like the transfer of technology found in the helicopter abandoned during the SEAL Team strike on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.
According to DARPA, the need for this kind of technology is rooted in national security (shocking). They write:
Sophisticated electronics can be made at low cost and are increasingly pervasive throughout the battlefield. Large numbers can be widely proliferated and used for applications such as distributed remote sensing and communications. However, it is nearly impossible to track and recover every device resulting in unintended accumulation in the environment and potential unauthorized use and compromise of intellectual property and technological advantage.
In other words, should a United States computer, or missile, or car fall into the wrong hands, the military wants to be able to disintegrate that chip and its information on command.
Oh by the way, this blog post will self destruct after you read it. Just kidding, we haven’t figured out how to do that just yet.