VAPR: Vanishing Programmable Resources

In January of 2013, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that it was working on developing micro-electronic components for military use that would self-destruct, or completely dissolve, immediately at their end-of-life.  The Vanishing Programmable Resources program, known as VAPR, has so far produced very promising results and laid the groundwork for the vanishing delivery vehicle program ICARUS now in development by DARPA that I discussed recently. Contracts have been awarded thus far to BAE Systems, PARC, Inc., IBM, Honeywell, and SRI International for the VAPR program, with amounts for these contracts ranging from $2.1 million (PARC) up to $5.7 million (BAE Systems).

The goal of the VAPR program is to develop and deploy micro-electronic devices that meet MIL-SPEC-810 standards of durability and have the ability to vanish immediately at end-of-life via preprogrammed commands, remote triggering, or environmental conditions such as heat or moisture.  To meet these requirements, DARPA researchers and various contractors have developed a method for binding microchips to the substrates, or thin layers of coating, within glass.  These substrates are then embedded into a treated glass that is built specifically to dissolve, or shatter into unrecognizable dust.  In fact, once the glass is shattered the particles are reduced to sizes no bigger than 150 microns and cannot be reconstructed.  However, the ultimate goal is to have transient materials that dissolve away, or vanish completely by converting from a physical to a gaseous state.

Transient material components in development include sensors, batteries, and systems-on-a-chip modules.  Essentially these devices can be used by military teams operating in the filed to deploy wide-area distributed networks in a mesh topology, providing highly accurate data with real-time analysis capabilities. However, once deployed many of these highly classified electronic devices are unrecoverable and tend to accumulate in the environment, often times landing in the hands of our enemies.  The use of transient materials would eliminate both of those problems.

Potential use cases include monitoring activities such as changing environmental conditions, troop movements, logistics, and communications.  These devices could also be used to neutralize high-value human targets in a clandestine fashion by being embedded them in items such as pens, cellular phones and the buttons on clothing.  Civilian use cases include agricultural monitoring and even consumer lawn and garden monitoring for soil moisture content, nutrient density, and water consumption.

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