In the current technological landscape, devices are intentionally designed to be replaced–it’s called planned obsolescence, and it means that their physical life spans exceed their desirability and utility, leaving countless consumers with countless gadgets that they have neither need nor want for. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are hoping to solve that problem, but not in the way that you might expect.
They don’t hope to increase the utility of electronic devices; they hope to shorten their physical life spans.
The project has been dubbed “Born to Die,” and its goal is to create devices with specific use-by dates, after which they would dissolve into nothingness. Led by Professor John Rogers, the researchers have already engineered magnesium and silicone circuitry that is printed on silk and dissolves in water, but they are still trying to work out how to plan for a device to dissolve only after a set amount of time.
“You don’t need your cell phone to last for 25 or 30 years. Nobody wants to keep it that long, anyway,” explained Rogers. Such technology would do wonders for the environment, keeping harmful chemicals and non-biodegradable materials out of landfills. And beyond consumer devices, the technology is of great interest to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), who would like to see combat electronics made with the ability to dissolve at the end of their useful lives for security purposes.
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