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Self-destructing phones are finally a reality

Published Feb 9th, 2017 10:03PM EST

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The idea of a self-destructing phone is usually something you only encounter in goofy spy movies, but it’s actually a potentially valuable invention that could aid in security for high profile individuals. A team of researchers in Saudi Arabia have built a prototype of a self-destructing gadget for the real world that can completely destroy a device in as little as ten seconds, and can be programmed to automatically trigger itself under certain conditions.

The mechanism works by channeling the power from the device’s battery into electrodes that rapidly heat, triggering the release and expansion of a special polymer that quickly expands and crushes the processor of the device.

“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, a researcher with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), explains. The result is a device that works perfectly fine one second, and is rendered completely inoperable the next.

What’s most interesting about this bit of spy-inspired tech is that the device doesn’t necessarily have to be in its owner’s possession in order for them to initiate its destruction. KAUST researchers successfully tested the mechanism with a number of triggers, including a GPS sensor that automatically destroyed the device when it passed a specific distance from an anchor point. They also built an app that could communicate with a specific device and trigger the burst with a password.

For now, the technology is still in its testing and prototyping stage, but the KAUST team hope to implement the mechanism in a manner that would successfully destroy not just a chip, but the storage drives and other components as well.