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DARPA hands IBM £3.4m to develop SELF DESTRUCTING CHIPS

Left an embarrassing USB key behind? No problem - it'll blow itself into dust

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The American miltary's mad boffin department DARPA has commissioned IBM to design microchips that can simply "vanish" after being used.

After the embarrassment of special forces troops leaving behind a “stealth” helicopter during the US operation to kill Osama Bin Laden, America has a strong interest in making sure its tech doesn't fall into enemy hands.

About a year ago, it announced a scheme called Vanishing Programmable Resources, which is dedicated to making expensive stuff disappear.

IBM have now been handed £3.4m to design chips that can be remotely reduced to silicon dust.

This will be achieved by using a fuse to shatter a thin piece of glass substrate which forms the base of the chip. When it goes pop, the glass will hopefully destroy the silicon complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) chip on top of it.

The government tender said: "IBM plans to utilize the property of strained glass substrates to shatter as the driving force to reduce attached CMOS chips into Si and SiO2 powder. A trigger, such as a fuse or a reactive metal layer will be used to initiate shattering, in at least one location, on the glass substrate. An external RF signal will be required for this process to be initiated. IBM will explore various schemes to enhance glass shattering and techniques to transfer this into the attached Si CMOS devices."

Last month, DARPA awarded BAE $4.5m to develop a sensor that will simply dissolve when it is no longer required.

When the highly-modified Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter broke down during the Bin Laden raid, the US Navy SEALs resorted to blowing it up. But enough was left behind for the Chinese to have a quick peek at the downed whirlybird before Pakistan handed it back to America.

To ensure no secrets go AWOL when sensitive gear is abandoned in the future, DARPA's Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program is developing "electronic systems capable of physically disappearing in a controlled, triggerable manner".

“The commercial off-the-shelf electronics made for everyday purchases are durable and last nearly forever,” said Alicia Jackson, DARPA program manager.

“DARPA is looking for a way to make electronics that last precisely as long as they are needed,” she added. “The breakdown of such devices could be triggered by a signal sent from command or any number of possible environmental conditions, such as temperature.” ®

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