This cell phone will self-destruct. And so will this battery, this computer chip and a whole spectrum of military electronics – on command – just like a real life version of that iconic moment in “Mission Impossible.”
In the “Mission Impossible” shows and films, the team uses devices that deliver secret messages and can self-destruct on command. This protects the data from falling into enemy hands and putting the team and mission at risk.
Forget “find my iPhone”… soon, if your phone or device is stolen, you too may able to order it to self-destruct and protect your personal data whether it’s family photos or your co-workers’ phone numbers.
Work is underway around the world to create technology that can destroy things if they fall into the wrong hands.
In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology developed a new device that can thwart thieves. The idea is that if your phone is stolen you can trigger your phone to self-destruct in mere seconds.
How does it work?
The technology, made of polymer and silicon, is placed inside the phone.
If your phone is stolen, then you trigger the tech. The self-destruct could be triggered remotely using an app.
The tech then harnesses the power from the phone battery. The power fuels the tech to expand seven times its original size. Ultimately, the tech explodes in less than 10 seconds from the time you trigger it.
Self-destruct for secrecy
With applications in mind for military and intelligence services, the research team ran a series of experiments that revolved around someone trying to remove secret data from its secured location. They developed a number of different ways to trigger self-destruction.
If the modified device was moved out of a designated space, a GPS sensor triggered the device to explode.
Should someone try to break into a casing that protects the tech, then a pressure sensor would trigger destruction.
If the tech-enhanced device was moved from dark to light – as if someone tried to take something secret out of your safe, drawer, pocket or bag – then it triggered self-destruct.
How soon can you modify your phone to self-destruct?
The team estimated it would cost around $15, but it is still unclear how soon the tech will become available and whether it will be widely available or restricted.
Researchers have already discussed the technology in IEEE Spectrum.
So what is the US military up to on this front?
Lots. The VAPR initiative is one of the most exciting by far. VAPR is a DARPA program and stands for Vanishing Programmable Resources.
The general idea is to be able to make devices self-destruct remotely and vanish like vapor. It has already produced lots of astonishing advances to help keep secret data and advanced tech out of the wrong hands.
Think of it like Snapchat for military electronics. Just like how you can control who sees your data with Snapchat and it disappears, it is the same idea with this concept. You control who uses your tech. If someone gets a hold of it, you can make it self-destruct or even vanish.
For the military, this sort of advance could provide lots of advantages.
On a battlefield, it can be difficult - if not impossible - to ensure that all tech is recovered. Sensors, for example, could be widely dispersed and recovery could put service members at risk.
It is important to preserve tech superiority that the U.S. military leverages against adversaries. It is also important to prevent adversaries from capturing American tech, reverse engineering it, and using it against the U.S and its allies.
Melting Military Devices
DARPA and the National Science Foundation have supported research into these advances at University of Illinois, for example.
Teams there have been working on remotely commanding devices to self-destruct using methods like heat and ultraviolet light.
Exploding Computer Chips
Another VAPR project DARPA supported is Xerox PARC's computer chip. PARC’s advances led to a chip that could be ordered to self-destruct and explode in less than 10 seconds.
The team there recently revealed a chip with circuitry printed on a Corning Gorilla Glass panel.
Sound, heat, radio waves and even lasers could be used to trigger the chip to instantly shatter into thousands of shards.
Xerox PARC is at the forefront of some truly futuristic advances. This DUST, or Disintegration Upon Stress-release Trigger, program is so good that the self-destruction can take an electronic device and rapidly disintegrate it into such tiny particles they cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Coming to an electronic device near you?
Beyond the military applications, there are a wide range of potential consumer uses.
To have peace of mind their private data won’t be exploited, consumers could use the tech to self-destruct their laptops, smart watches, fitness trackers and other wearables in addition to cell phones.
When electronics become obsolete or stop working, then they could be commanded to disintegrate and vanish - rather then add to ever-growing landfills.
For enhanced protection of the public from natural disasters, DUST sensors could be widely distributed to help predict hurricanes or give early warnings on earthquakes. When self-destructed, they would decompose in an eco-friendly way.
Allison Barrie is a defense specialist with experience in more than 70 countries who consults at the highest levels of defense and national security, a lawyer with four postgraduate degrees, and author of the definitive guide, Future Weapons: Access Granted, on sale in 30 countries. Barrie hosts the new hit podcast “Tactical Talk” where she gives listeners direct access to the most fascinating Special Operations warriors each week and to find out more about the FOX Firepower host and columnist you can click here or follow her on Twitter @allison_barrie and Instagram @allisonbarriehq.