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Device vanishes on command after military missions (phys.org)
53 points by rbanffy 54 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments

"...et in pulverem reverteri", a short story by Janusz Zajdel (up there with Lem of Solaris fame) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janusz_Zajdel

Google translate of archive.org snapshot https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=pl&tl=en&u=h...

TLDR: Deep space mission is send to a distant solar system where signals of intelligent civilization have been discovered. As they approach the planet all the signs, radio waves, artificial lights, etc progressively disappear. Meanwhile on the planet we are introduced to the society which solved all of the world problems by providing everyone with a job, all thanks to invention of a timed catalyst able to disintegrate any matter after coded period. Every item on the planet is programmed to turn into dust on expiry date, "durability of single-family houses - up to 15 years; passenger cars and their parts and accessories - up to 1 year; TV sets and radios - up to 1 year; clothing and footwear - up to 6 months; underwear - up to 3 months.", perfect planned obsolescence on a global scale. Unfortunately there is an accident at one of the catalyst producing plants at the time of deep space mission approach. Giant spill creates chain reaction eating everything on its way. Narrator goes back to the space mission, now landing on a barren planet, with astronauts embarking and looking around confused at the sight of an empty world.

I'd love to read the collection of short stories this appears in, Ogon Diabła, but I cannot seem to find a published edition in English. Any suggestions?

"Almost none of his works have been translated into English; the only exception is the short story Wyjątkowo trudny teren ("Particularly Difficult Territory") that Zajdel wrote for the English language Tales from the Planet Earth anthology edited by Frederik Pohl and Elizabeth Anne Hull." -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janusz_Zajdel

Only managed to find that one, offline page. You can click an arrow pointing up (/abc.htm) on this weird google translate/archive.org contraption to reach index.

Thank you Rasz, great post. And scary how good Google translate is, it's actually readable.

This article is talking about "disappearing vehicles," but you can't make a vehicle out of plastic. The best you could do would be to have a vehicle that decomposed into a pile of batteries, motors and wires.

The article says they've already made a glider out of it. The non-plastic parts of a drone glider could easily be smaller and less noticeable than the payload itself.

Is that really the limit of what's possible? How well does sodium or another volatile metal conduct electricity? If a drone made of sodium flies into water after it's done, there won't be much left.

"Vehicle" is a very broad term, and it wasn't so long ago the assumption was that one could not 3D-print a gun out of plastic.

You still cannot, for any meaningful concept of a "gun". You can kinda print a (rather fragile and crude) lower, but that's it as far as I've seen.

Define "meaningful concept of a gun".

You can print a plastic device, insert one nail (needed for a firing pin), and fire bullets that can kill a person.

Is it accurate? No. Durable? No. A crappy gun? Definitely!

But I think that this meets most people's idea of a meaningful concept of a gun. A weapon with a barrel and a trigger. Pull the trigger, there is a bang, and a high speed projectile goes where you pointed it at.

If it requires a nail, the final device was not 3D printed.

The nail can itself be 3D printed with the right printer.

The design that I was talking about was 2013. Since then there have been legal issues back and forth. Entirely plastic designs probably exist, but are not legally available.

If it required a firing pin that’s arguable, but a nail significantly changes the shape/form of the device.

I could use a 3D printer to create a solid block of plastic and then hand carve it into a doll. But, nobody would call the doll 3D printed even if one of the steps was 3D printed.

You can 3D print metal (possibly not well enough for a quality gun, but a crappy one should be doable)

Also, I don’t think a gun needs a firing pin. You could have a gun where the trigger release a spring that brings two chemicals together that react violently, thus firing the bullet.

If they 3D printed it that would be a firing pin. It’s a nail because they just used a nail and hammer it into the device.

You probably could, but that depends on the meaning of "3D printing" and "plastic" too. 3D printing isn't just Makerbots, and if rocket engine nozzles can be 3D printed out of metal, I don't see why something better than the Liberator couldn't be produced by printing with some less common plastic.

The Liberator(?) Was entirely plastic I believe. Not just the lower. It may have had a metal firing pin.

Yes, that was its name.

It had 2 metal parts. The first was a nail for a firing pin. And the second was a useless hunk of metal whose only purpose is to make metal detectors go off. (Thereby avoiding being illegal because it is concealable.)

I'm sure the military has developed a stealth canoe...and that counts as a vehicle. ;-)

Can you do something like this for semiconductor devices? Although I assume destructive EEPROM erase in software combined with some explosives is an easier solution...

Thermal or chemical dissolution might be easier.

Fabrication with preinstalled thermite charges would generally suffice. You'd know there had been a device there, but it would be difficult to reverse-engineer.

It beats beating on stuff with axes:


Interesting to see the military still didn't have a mature solution of secure physical destruction for things other than crypto keys.

Hammers and axes tend not to go off unintentionally in confined spaces and/or at altitude.

Yeah, but we're talking about the military, where bullets, bombs, and missiles are stuffed in every conceivable crevice of your person and vehicle. Carrying around violently explosive material is what they do.

Bullets, bombs, and missiles are produced in quantity with a long safety-assurance development and learning cycle. Mistakes are known to have happened.

Sensitive electronics are small-batch (if not one-off) deployments. Mixing volatiles and circuits with confinement and altitude tends to put a lot of risk adjacent to extremely low tolerances for out-of-range behaviours.

At the very least, that's an argument for using a Standard Thermite Pack separately packaged (and possibly with separated incredients and factors) which could be applied as needed, when needed.

Or some equivalent mechanism.

Amazing if we could use this for replacing one use plastics

That hugely depends on what it “vanishes” into.

I’m not a chemist, but reading https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phthalaldehyde#Disinfection makes me concerned a bit, as “disinfectant” often means “kills stuff”.

You are correct.

Materials scientist and polymer scientists here:

Just because it depolymerizes doesn't mean it does so into happy stuff. Photodegradation is the process of degrading with the application of photons (typically in the visible to UV range). Many things, especially plastic things, degrade in the sunlight, some faster than others. But then, when it degrades, when those monomers (single repeat used to make a polymer) split up, what did you just release into the environment?

If you want to understand this process more, here's a good and accessible read: [Photodegradation and photostabilization of polymers, especially polystyrene: review](https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4320144/)

Aww, my first thought was food packaging that auto-sublimates after opening.

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