US scientists have demonstrated ‘biodegradable' electronics they say have been used to make components from ‘ultra thin' sheets of silicon.
A 64-pixel digital camera is among the first in a new generation of such self-destructing devices, according to researchers at The University of Illinois.
Encapsulated in silk, the ‘transient' electronics products are intended to be environmentally-safe – dissolving ‘in a few days when immersed in biofluids'.
Researchers claim the devices can even disappear in ‘minute volumes of water', adding: ‘The structure of the silk determines its rate of dissolution from minutes, to days, weeks or – possibly – years.'
The project is backed by US military research agency DARPA and led by university professor John A Rogers, who said: ‘From the earliest days of the electronics industry, a key design goal has been to build devices that last forever - with completely stable performance.
‘But, if you think about the opposite possibility – devices that are engineered to physically disappear in a controlled and programmed manner – then other, completely different kinds of application opportunities open up.'
Rogers – who announced basics of the research back in 2009 – says the technology has promising potential for use in portable devices that require regular upgrading, such as cellphones.
Researchers say they have so far applied the technology to components such as transistors and diodes, and equipment including digital cameras and antennas.
Scientists hope it will also be used for medical devices implanted inside the body – where an implant would simply vanish after serving its purpose of fighting off potential infection following surgery, for example.
However, it is the technology's potential for use by undercover agents which has fallen under the radar of Spy Gadgets 4U, an online retailer.
A spokesperson for the UK-based business – which says it has no connection with the US research – claims the devices could revolutionise the industry, leading to a ‘new generation of self-destructing spy cameras'.
‘Tiny cameras would be strategically placed in hostile environments to feed information back to base camps, before the devices are dissolved with nobody any the wiser.'
Spy Gadgets 4U says it is keeping a close eye on developments.