Ultimate Mobile Security: Devices that Self-Destruct

The biggest concern the federal government has about mobile computing is the risk that a device could fall into the wrong hands. Lost or stolen mobile devices account for about one quarter of a million dollars annually, a material loss as well as a security issue. The technology exists that can remotely lock or wipe lost and stolen devices, but what about a new generation of devices that do even more, such as – simply disappear.


It’s called ‘transient electronics technology’ and it may be the next big thing in mobile security at its most invisible.

For the last several years, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has funded research into transient electronics – devices that last “as long as they are needed.”

Electronic signals or environmental conditions such as heat or cold could trigger devices to self-destruct. DARPA is also researching batteries that would simply vanish. Funding has enabled the possibility of taking the endeavor to an industrial scale. And healthcare researchers are interested in transient electronics as a way to implant drug-delivery or diagnostic devices that would dissolve in the body upon completion of delivery.


With a wide range of potential applications, transient electronics could be used in surveillance and other sensor electronics, programmed to self-destruct to avoid detection. Notebooks, tablets and smartphones could use transient flash memory that disintegrates after receiving a specific signal. Another method could be a password or other form of authentication that would be entered in a certain amount of time to avoid destruction. As fuel cells emerge as an alternative to batteries in tables and other handheld devices, one method of self-destruction might be to flood the device with its own fuel.


Consensus among researchers is that transient electronics are viable, not only in terms of functionality, but also in terms of mass production. Government buyers would be readily on board with transient technology, as agency-wide use of smartphones, tablets and notebooks continues to proliferate. Transient electronics could be less expensive because materials would not need to last as long. On the other hand, the technology could come at a premium because of the inability to use existing architectures.


As DARPA continues to expand funding for research and development of transient technology, it is gaining broad acceptance as an important, feasible technology at many levels of government, science and business.