Military Embedded Systems

Dissolvable military electronics investigated by DARPA program


January 31, 2013

Brandon Lewis

Technology Editor

Embedded Computing Design

Dissolvable military electronics investigated by DARPA program

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has begun a program for the development of electronics that are capable of dissolving into the environment after use. The Vanishing Programmable Resources Program (VAPR) is aimed at developing transient electronics that are comparable in ruggedness in functionality to Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) systems currently used, but that can be triggered to self-destruct in a controlled manner.

The VAPR program is investigating ways in which the electronics could be dissolved, including remote and environmental triggers or set programs. Alicia Jackson, DARPA Program Manager, confirmed this in a statement, “The breakdown of such devices could be triggered by a signal sent from command or any number of possible environmental conditions, such as temperature.”

The electronics themselves would be composed magnesium, silicon, and silk in ultra-thin sheets that are water soluble, and depending on the thickness of the silk, could decompose in times ranging from days to minutes. As low levels of magnesium and silicon are present within humans, Jackson expressed DARPA’s ambitions for the devices to eventually be able to “reabsorb into the body.”

The benefit of this technology for military purposes is clear, as though it is nearly impossible to track and recover all distributed military electronics, dissolved electronics on the battlefield would be useless if gathered by an enemy. Further, dissolvable electronics would reduce environmental impacts.

DARPA plans to develop a transient circuit representative of a biomedical or environmental sensor that can communicate with a remote user during the program’s technology demonstration phase. The agency is scheduled to hold a “Vanishing, Programmable Resources (VAPR) Day” on February 14th, inviting scientists and manufacturers from the technology community to facilitate interaction between potential players.


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