Scientists at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., awarded a $2.5 million contract this week to the Honeywell Aerospace Microelectronics & Precision Sensors segment in Plymouth, Minn., for the Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program.
The VAPR contract asks Honeywell to develop transient electronics that can physically disappear in a controlled, triggerable manner. The goal is to develop electronic components that will decompose on command to prevent unauthorized use and compromise of intellectual property.
Awarding the contract on behalf of DARPA were officials of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Honeywell microelectronics experts will work with DARPA to develop new concepts and capabilities to enable the materials, components, integration, and manufacturing to build this new class of disappearing electronics.
Transient electronics may enable revolutionary new military capabilities, including sensors, environmental monitoring over large areas, and simplified diagnosis, treatment, and health monitoring in the field, DARPA officials say.
Large-area distributed networks of sensors that can decompose in the natural environment may provide critical data for a limited time, but no longer. In medical applications, devices that resorb into the body may aid in continuous health monitoring and treatment in the field.
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Honeywell researchers will pursue transient electronics with performance comparable to commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) electronics, but with limited lifetimes.
Without such capability, DARPA officials say, it is nearly impossible to track and recover every electronic device on the battlefield, which risks technology counterfeiting, unintended accumulation in the environment, and potential enemy use. Once triggered to dissolve, these electronics would be useless to any enemy who might come across them, DARPA officials say.
“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.”
Honeywell will conduct basic research into materials, devices, manufacturing and integration processes, and design methodology in transient electronics, culminating in demonstration of a prototype circuit that can accept instructions from a remote user.