Considering that batteries are typically designed for maximum longevity, it may seem odd to learn that the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is ramping up research into self-destructing batteries.
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Odd or not, DARPA awarded a $4.7 million contract last week to SRI International, an independent research organization based in Menlo Park, CA, to develop a transient power supply that, when triggered, becomes unobservable to the human eye.
More specifically, SRI International will design a vanishing silicon, air battery for use by DARPA customers.
The military’s rationale for developing such a battery is more persuasive than many people may realize.
The U.S. Army has begun deploying a stream of advanced battlefield electronics for soldiers, including next-generation fused thermal and night vision goggles, more accurate laser targeting systems and devices for generating electrical power in the field.
These applications are only the start.
Soon, the Army could be deploying computerized, numerically controlled 3-D printing machines in mobile shipping containers, which could be used to create and “print” physical solutions to specific problems encountered in the field.
One factor that could prevent deployment of these new capabilities is the inability to control assets after they’ve entered the battle space.
Equipment can be lost or captured by enemy forces. Sooner or later, the cat will get out of the bag – unless the bag is designed to self-destruct.
That capability is the objective of DARPA’s Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR), which is developing embedded computing and other electronic components able to decompose into the surrounding environment when no longer needed.
“DARPA is looking for a way to make electronics that last precisely as long as they are needed,” says Alicia Jackson, the VAPR program manager at DARPA. “The breakdown of such devices could be triggered by a signal sent from command or any number of possible environmental conditions, such as temperature.”
Once triggered to dissolve, these electronics would be useless to any enemy who might come across them.
In early December, Honeywell Microelectronics & Precision Sensors won a $2.5 million contract from DARPA to pursue transient electronics for military and medical applications.
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