IBM has landed yet another contract from the Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency (DARPA), this time to the tune of $3.4 million - for self-destructing hardware.
The contract is for the development of DARPA's Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) project that was announced last year by the agency
VAPR hardware is designed to become unusable after certain pre-defined conditions have been met. This is DARPA's solution to the possible leaking of intelligence from electronics recovered from the battlefield by enemy combatants.
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"The commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, electronics made for everyday purchases are durable and last nearly forever," says Alicia Jackson, the VAPR program manager for DARPA. "DARPA is looking for a way to make electronics that last precisely as long as they are needed. The breakdown of such devices could be triggered by a signal sent from command or any number of possible environmental conditions, such as temperature."
Specifically, IBM has been tasked with finding a way to use a radio frequency to shatter a glass coating covering computer chips in order to destroy them. According to DARPA, "IBM plans is to utilize the property of strained glass substrates to shatter as the driving force to reduce attached CMOS chips into Si [silicon] and SiO2 [silicon dioxide] powder."
IBM has received several other contracts from DARPA in the past. In 2006 IBM was contracted to develop a petascale supercomputer as part of DARPA's High Productivity Computing Systems (HPCS) project. In 2008 IBM, along with HRL Laboratories and several US universities, were contracted with creating a microprocessor system that imitates the form of a mammalian brain; this means creating synapses and neurons too. Reports say that IBM is also working on integrated liquid cooling for CPUs as part of DARPA's ICECool program.
"This is a tall order, and we imagine a multidisciplinary approach," says Jackson. "Teams will likely need industry experts who understand circuits, integration, and, design. Performers from the material science community will be sought to develop novel substrates. There's lots of room for innovation by clever people with diverse expertise."
In addition, DARPA contracted out the development of a self destructing battery to SRI International as part of the VAPR program.