Electronics, such as those on the back of this soldier, can fall into the wrong hands on the battlefield. / Peter Haley, AP
The Pentagon will pay a Silicon Valley-based research institute $4.7 million to develop a silicon/air battery capable of powering electronic devices and becoming "unobservable to the human eye" when activated, according to contract documents released this week.
SRI International received the contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as part of DARPA's Vanishing Programmable Resources program, which develops portable electronic devices capable of "capable of physically disappearing in a controlled, triggerable manner," an agency document says.
DARPA started the program to address the problem created by the spread of small electronic devices that could be left on the battlefield and found by potential enemies to be used against the troops they were originally intended to help. Such devices include radios, remote sensors or phones, DARPA records show.
The battery, which DARPA calls SPECTRE for Stressed Pillar-Engineered CMOS Technology Readied for Evanescence, is intended to be transferred to a commercial semiconductor maker to turn into a reliable power supply for DARPA customers. Once used, the battery would then self-destruct to avoid falling into the wrong hands.
Silicon-air batteries were invented in the last decade by a team led by Israeli scientist Yair Ein-Eli at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. In 2009, Ein-Eli said such batteries would be lightweight "with infinite shelf life and high energy capacity."
SRI, which was created in 1946 as the Stanford Research Institute, is an independent non-profit research center that specializes in developing technology that can then be transferred to commercial development. It has developed a variety of technologies adapted for military use, including over-the-horizon radar, artificial intelligence and robot teams, SRI documents show.
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