Xerox PARC's new chip will self destruct in 10 seconds

The chip breaks apart on command and was developed under DARPA

A chip fabricated on glass is seen exploding during a slow-motion video provided by Xerox PARC Credit: Xerox PARC

A chip fabricated on glass is seen exploding during a slow-motion video provided by Xerox PARC Credit: Xerox PARC

Engineers at Xerox PARC have developed a chip that will self-destruct upon command, providing a potentially revolutionary tool for high-security applications.

The chip, developed as part of DARPA’s vanishing programmable resources project, could be used to store data such as encryption keys and, on command, shatter into thousands of pieces so small, reconstruction is impossible.

It was demonstrated at DARPA’s Wait, What? event in St. Louis on Thursday.

“The applications we are interested in are data security and things like that,” said Gregory Whiting, a senior scientist at PARC in Palo Alto, California. “We really wanted to come up with a system that was very rapid and compatible with commercial electronics.”

The result is a chip based on Gorilla Glass, the Corning-produced tough glass used in the displays of numerous smartphones.

150910 darpa parc chip 1 Martyn Williams

A chip fabricated on a glass substrate shortly before destruction during a demonstration at DARPA's Wait, What? conference in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sept. 10, 2015.

“We take the glass and we ion-exchange temper it to build in stress,” said Whiting. “What you get is glass that, because it’s heavily stressed, breaks it fragments into tiny little pieces.”

In a demonstration on Thursday, the glass was stressed to breaking point by heat. When a circuit was switched on, a small resistor heated up and the glass shattered into thousands of pieces. Even after it broke up, stress remained in the fragments and they continued breaking into even smaller pieces for tens of seconds afterwards.

150910 darpa parc chip 2 Martyn Williams

Shards of glass is all that's left of a self-destructing chip during a demonstration at DARPA's Wait, What? conference in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sept. 10, 2015.

The chip presents an exciting prospect in applications such as computer security. If a chip fabricated on glass was used to store an encryption key, the destruction of the chip could assure complete destruction of the key in an instant -- perhaps as part of a routine process or when the key falls into the wrong hands.

In the demo in St. Louis, the self-destruct circuit was triggered by a photo-diode, which switched on the circuit when a bright light fell on it. In this occasion, the light was provided by a laser, but the trigger could be anything from a mechanical switch to a radio signal.

Here's the demo. Blink and you'll miss it.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?