If you have seen James Bond movies, you would have watched a scene in which Bond is trapped in some dire situations and he flicks a button on his gadget and the gadget goes boom temporarily blinding his enemy and letting him escape. Well, that might soon be a reality thanks to researchers who have developed a new prototype which can destroy any smartphone in 10 secs flat when triggered.
Researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia recently demonstrated a prototype of a self-destructing device that can destroy a smartphone or other electronic device in as little as 10 seconds, and be programmed to automatically trigger itself under certain conditions.
The self-destruct mechanism consists of a special polymer layer that rapidly expands up to seven times its original size when subjected to temperatures above 80°C (176°F), effectively bursting the bursting open the given device from the inside. Heating the polymer is achieved using roughly 500 to 600 milliwatts of electricity, which trigger the reaction and crumple the chip within 10 to 15 seconds.
“The expandable polymer expands much more and causes sufficient tension in the thin silicon—which is sitting on top of the polymer—so it simply crumples and then breaks,” Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, an electrical engineer with KAUST explains.
The temperature needed to activate the self-destruct mechanism could even be tuned between 80- and 250 degrees C by using different polymeric materials. The result is a device that works perfectly fine one second, and is rendered completely inoperable the next.
The mechanism was successfully tested by the KAUST researchers successfully using different methods, as if in a real-life situation, including a GPS sensor that automatically destroyed the device when it passed beyond the boundary of a designated area. They also built an app that could communicate with a specific device and trigger the burst with a password. Lastly, one involved fitting a pressure sensor inside the device that caused it to self-destruct if someone forced the cover off.
Hussain believes that the device has a lot of potential applications and could be a huge hit. “The first customers would be the ones who need data protection: Intelligence communities, corporations, banks, hedge funds, social security administrations, collectors who handle massive data,” he told Spectrum. The self-destructing gadget can be installed on most contemporary chipsets, which means it doesn’t require a specialized device to work.
Currently, the technology is still in its testing and prototyping stage, but the KAUST team hope to implement the mechanism at a grand stage in the coming months that would successfully destroy not just a chip, but the storage drives and other components as well. The overall cost of adding the self-destruct security mechanism would likely be about $15 or less, depending on volume, added Hussain.
The research will be revealed in one of the upcoming issues of the Advanced Materials Technologies, a renowned international journal focused on engineering techniques.
This isn’t the first time such a technology has been invented. Recently, the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has developed a glass chip that shatters within 10 seconds.