Think having smartphones or radios that can self-destruct is just something for sci-fi movies? Think again.
IBM is working on electronics for the U.S. military that will self-destruct on command to ensure that powerful devices holding critical data stay out of the hands of the enemy.
DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the U.S. military's research arm, awarded a $3.4 million contract for its "Vanishing Programmable Resources" program to IBM on Jan. 31.
"Sophisticated electronics can be made at low cost and are increasingly pervasive throughout the battlefield," DARPA said on its website. "However, it is nearly impossible to track and recover every device resulting in unintended accumulation in the environment and potential unauthorized use and compromise of intellectual property and technological advantage."
Neither DARPA nor IBM responded to requests for information.
DARPA said on its website that it's looking for devices, such as sensors, radios and phones, that work as well as off-the-shelf commercial options but can be remotely triggered to break apart.
IBM has been tasked with developing materials, components and manufacturing capabilities.
The company, according to DARPA, is working on a "strained glass substrate" that will shatter. A trigger, such as a fuse, will be used in at least one, if not multiple, areas on the device.
The trigger would be set off by a radio-frequency signal.
The military wants to use self-destructing technology for devices such as environmental or health monitoring sensors.
"A self-destruct capability is very important when it comes to data and devices that might compromise the security of the U.S.," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "If they get their hands on the right device, an enemy might be able to not only harvest the data, but also bypass security walls in order to penetrate supposedly secure networks and get even more data."
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is email@example.com.
Read more about emerging technologies in Computerworld's Emerging Technologies Topic Center.
This story, "This Smartphone Will Self-Destruct in 5 Seconds" was originally published by Computerworld.