Breakable computers could be the next big thing

Small Blue and its chums at PARC are working on computers which can self-destruct.

The big idea is that it would be handy for sensitive electronic components to able to self-destruct on command to keep them out of the hands of potential adversaries.

PARC and IBM are joining the Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) programme of the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

DARPA awarded a $2.1 million contract to PARC, and a $3.5 million contract to IBM for the VAPR program, which seeks to develop transient electronics that can physically disappear in a controlled way.

PARC and IBM, experts in microelectronics technologies, will develop electronic component materials that shatter into a million pieces when triggered. Another outfit, SRI International, meanwhile, is working on a disappearing silicon/air battery.

The method will use stress-engineered materials, silicon processing, and microchip handling and deposition to create a transience technology. This is called Disintegration Upon Stress-release Trigger, or DUST which is oddly how Techeye operates on a Monday morning.

PARC will use stress-engineered substrates with integrated triggers and silicon proxy, or “dummy” circuits that crumble into small, sand-like particles in a fraction of a second when an electrical trigger is applied.

Individual pieces of dust will be invisible at a reasonable distance and will blend into the surrounding environment.

IBM researchers will use the property of strained glass substrates to shatter into silicon and silicon dioxide. An RF signal trigger such as a fuse or a reactive metal layer will start the shattering.

AppleiPad was named as the gizmo most likely to break in a stress test, maybe Big Blue should give Jobs’ Mob a call and get a few pointers.