Research wing of the US military, DARPA, is working on a rather interesting concept - dissolvable and biodegradable electronics with potential applications in the defence industry and the consumer sphere.
Self-destructible electronics have obvious applications in the murky world of government spooks and defence agencies. DARPA says it is hoping to develop "transient electronics" capable of physically disappearing in a controlled, triggerable manner. DARPA even envisions electronics that could reabsorb in the body. Spies will no longer have to eat their gear when rumbled, but they might choose to do so, as the gadgets would safely dissolve - although we are not sure about the taste.
The next time a drone lands in Iran instead of Kandahar, using transient electronics, some of its sensitive gear could be dissolved.
DARPA claims it is nearly impossible to track and recover all electronics distributed by the military, so many systems can easily fall into enemy hands. Then there is the environmental impact, which could be all but eliminated by dissolvable electronics. The new devices could be dissolved through a remote trigger, an environment dependent trigger or by a set program.
However, the technology is still in its infancy and it could be years before we see dissolvable electronics designed for the military, let alone the consumer market. The concept of self-destructible electronics is not new. Militaries have employed self-destruct mechanisms on sensitive technologies for decades, on a range of classified systems like encryption devices and cameras used in spy planes. Francis Gary Powers famously failed to trigger the self-destruct circuit on his U2 as it tumbled from the skies over Sverdlovsk, providing the Soviets with a huge propaganda coup. The failure of a self-destruct circuit on a strategic bomber was also part of the plot in Kubrick's 1964 masterpiece Dr Strangelove.
DARPA plans to hold an event to promote the new technology next month, with a focus on medical applications. The event is aptly named "Vanishing, Programmable Resources (VAPR) Day."