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DARPA: 'Vanishing' spy tech will self-destruct in 3,2,1...

The U.S. military is giving big bucks to IBM, Xerox, and others to develop "Mission Impossible"-style tech that explodes or decomposes once it's served its purpose.

The doorway of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Will VAPR tech be displayed here one day?
Tony Fischer/Flickr

VAPR. It sounds like a nefarious spy agency bent on world domination, doesn't it?

Instead, VAPR stands for Vanishing Programmable Resources, and it's a new program created by DARPA -- the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- to develop tech that self-destructs either on demand or at a pre-scheduled time. That's not to say it isn't involved in the world of espionage. That's exactly its point. According to DARPA:

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.

That's all another way of saying: "We want to send spy toys over enemy lines that we might not be able to get back, so we want to blow them up before the enemy gets them."

To help it in this mission, DARPA has given out contracts to major corporations, including ones worth $3.5 million to IBM, $2.5 million to Honeywell Aerospace, and $2.1 million to Xerox.

The IBMers will be working on ways to obliterate a semiconductor chip by turning it into silicon powder by attaching a glass layer to it that can be shattered via remote control.

Over at Xerox, according to DARPA, scientists will be focusing on approaching the problem from almost the opposite perspective. They'll be working on equipment that uses stress (such as pressure) to hold it together, and then when that pressure is released via an electrical signal, it too will turn to dust.

At Honeywell, the research is taking a bit more of an organic turn, as engineers there work to make microelectronics that will simply decompose naturally at the end of a pre-determined life span.

In addition to creating some very cool self-destructing spy gadgets, DARPA says it believes the technology being developed could have applications beyond finding out what the enemy is saying. The agency says the tech could be used to create "bioresorbable" devices for medical diagnosis and treatment in the field. Such devices would dissolve inside the body, which, in way, is a more modern take on that age-old spy trick -- eating the message before the enemies can get their hands on it.

(Via BBC)