DARPA wants self-destructible computer chips

An editor’s note follows this story.

The Pentagon wants its top research arm to give troops the same kind of self-destructing devices Ethan Hunt had in the movie series "Mission Impossible."

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency didn’t necessarily specify the famous 5-second timeline, but military leaders wants to develop semiconductors and computer chips that will turn to dust via a remote signal or at a specific time.

Called the Vanishing Programmable Resources, DARPA announced the program on Jan. 28 issuing a $3.5 million award to IBM to study the possibilities of developing “strained glass substrates” that would crumble into powder on command, according to the DARPA announcement.

Troops carry a host of mobile technologies into combat to include GPS transponders, smartphones and countless other devices. Military leaders are worried what happens when those devices — many of which have sensitive operational information — fall into enemy hands.

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“These electronics have become necessary for operations, but it is almost impossible to track and recover every device. At the end of operations, these electronics are often found scattered across the battlefield and might be captured by the enemy and repurposed or studied to compromise DoD’s strategic technological advantage,” DARPA officials said in a statement.

Engineers with DARPA want to develop computer chips that could dissolve on command.

DARPA will host a Proposers’ Day on Feb. 14 in Arlington,  Va., to see what technologies potentially already exist, according to a DARPA announcement. The deadline to sign up is Feb. 8.

“The commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, electronics made for everyday purchases are durable and last nearly forever,” said Alicia Jackson, the DARPA program manager for VPR. “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.”

Update: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that the Proposer's Day was scheduled this month. It occurred in Febrary 2013.