DARPA Wants To Make Spy Gadgets That Dissolve

By Jordan Mammo email: , Jan 28, 2013 07:33 PM EST

Any avid movie goer or television fan is familiar with the self-destructing message. After all, what classic spy episode isn't complete without at least one TV set or mobile device exploding after delivering its secret message?

Still, explosions can be messy. And loud. And not very secretive, what with all those parts scattering everywhere. What if, instead of exploding, things just kind of melted away?

If the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has its way, that's precisely what future military personnel will be using. They might even be able to absorb the chips inside their body.

According to a report in Wired, DARPA wants to develop spy hardware, like sensors and chips and what-have-you, that will literally dissolve either at a specific time or on command. These kinds of devices are being called "transient electronics" at the moment, and next month DARPA will invite a team of scientists and hardware makers to Virginia to explore the possibility of making this dream into reality.

The program itself is called Vanishing Programmable Resources, or VAPR for short (Get it? Vapor? Clever). Its goal is to make chips and sensors that can degrade when the time is right without sacrificing the capabilities afforded to regular old non-disintegrating chips and sensors.

"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," said Dr. Alicia Jackson, VAPR's program manager.

So far, the plan includes developing material that would dissolve on command or at a set time, but it's not limited to that alone. DARPA also wants to explore the potential for implanting these devices in future spies, which means that when the chip disintegrates (yup, it'll do that inside you, too), the body can re-absorb whatever materials the components are made of.

That's a pretty ambitious project, but no one is sure it'll even be possible. DARPA is also honest about the realities, saying that "key technological breakthroughs are required across the entire electronics production process, from starting materials to components to finished products."

Still, dreaming up these kinds of initiatives is exactly what DARPA is supposed to do, and the agency is no stranger to crazy-sounding ideas. Recently it announced plans to develop what's basically a robotic space surgeon: a machine capable of rummaging through retired satellites orbiting earth, picking out parts that still work, and refashioning them with mini satellites to create a brand new communication system.

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