Batteries and Portable Power

DARPA Seeks Power Electronics VAPR-ware

The “Stressed Pillar-Engineered CMOS Technology Readied for Evanescence” (SPECTRE) silicon/air battery is the latest announcement from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency‘s (DARPA) Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program. The SPECTRE battery will be a fully-transient power supply that, when triggered, becomes unobservable to the human eye (it ‘vaproizes’). The objective is to (1) design, build, and prove a vanishing silicon/air battery, and (2) transition the proven technology to a semiconductor foundry to yield a deployable, realistic, and scalable power supply for use by DARPA customers. To meet these objectives, a self-destructing silicon/air battery that incorporates a platform for CMOS and MEMS circuitry as the battery anode will be created. The proposed advanced study will prove performance using an anode that incorporates a representative dielectric film and interconnect.

VAPR seeks to enable transient electronics as a deployable technology. To achieve this goal, researchers are pursuing new concepts and capabilities to enable the materials, components, integration, and manufacturing that will realize this new class of electronics. Sophisticated electronics can be made at low cost and are increasingly pervasive throughout the battlefield. Large numbers can be widely proliferated and used for applications such as distributed remote sensing and communications.

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. The VAPR program seeks electronic systems capable of physically disappearing in a controlled, triggerable manner. These transient electronics should have performance comparable to commercial-off-the-shelf electronics, but with limited device persistence that can be programmed, adjusted in real-time, triggered, and/or be sensitive to the deployment environment.

Transient electronics may enable a number of revolutionary military capabilities including sensors for conventional indoor/outdoor environments, environmental monitoring over large areas, and simplified diagnosis, treatment, and health monitoring in the field. Large-area distributed networks of sensors that can decompose in the natural environment (ecoresorbable) may provide critical data for a specified duration, but no longer. Alternatively, devices that resorb into the body (bioresorbable) may aid in continuous health monitoring and treatment in the field.

The sophisticated electronics used by warfighters in everything from radios, remote sensors and even phones can now be made at such a low cost that they are pervasive throughout the battlefield. These electronics have become necessary for operations, but it is almost impossible to track and recover every device. At the end of operations, these electronics are often found scattered across the battlefield and might be captured by the enemy and repurposed or studied to compromise DoD's strategic technological advantage.

Transient electronics developed under VAPR should maintain the current functionality and ruggedness of conventional electronics, but, when triggered, be able to degrade partially or completely into their surroundings. Once triggered to dissolve, these electronics would be useless to any enemy who might come across them.

"The commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, electronics made for everyday purchases are durable and last nearly forever," said Alicia Jackson, DARPA program manager. "DARPA is looking for a way to make electronics that last precisely as long as they are needed. The breakdown of such devices could be triggered by a signal sent from command or any number of possible environmental conditions, such as temperature."

"DARPA has previously demonstrated that transient electronics might be used to fight infections at surgical sites," said Jackson. "Now, we want to develop a revolutionary new class of electronics for a variety of systems whose transience does not require submersion in water. This is a tall order, and we imagine a multidisciplinary approach. Teams will likely need industry experts who understand circuits, integration, and, design. Performers from the material science community will be sought to develop novel substrates. There’s lots of room for innovation by clever people with diverse expertise."

New Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
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