Vandalize An ATM, Get Burning-Hot Acid Shot At Your Face. Sure!

Some dynamic new security technology is taking cues from the animal kingdom: Researchers have figured out how to make ATMs shoot hot acid-foam at vandal's faces. The idea sprung from study of the Bombadier beetle, owner of one of the most overt, effective chemical defense mechanisms going. The Bombadier has two different chemicals that lurk inside its stomach, which mix together when it becomes agitated, forming a dangerous acid that can kill and repel would-be attackers.

This sneaky little guy inspired researchers at the Switzerland-based ETH Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences to wonder — what if certain types of secure technologies could mimic the Bombadier beetle's secret, devastating form of self-defense? Specifically, what if you could engineer an ATM to spray searing-hot foam at the face of a would-be vandal or thief?

It works like this: two thin, honeycomb-styled layers of plastic are placed on top of one another, separated by a thin layer of retaining plastic in between. Each layer's honeycomb chambers are filled with one of two chemicals, and should the protective barrier break in the midst of a theft or vandalism attempt, the two chemicals blend and burst forth, spraying foam approaching 170 degrees Fahrenheit towards the person's face. In short, it sounds like a terrifying and irreversible instant, the sort of which fans of Jurassic Park might be familiar.

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This is by no means the first time animal-inspired tech has been devised and developed for aggressive purposes. Such inspirations have for years driven innovations in different forms of military technology — the Nano Hummingbird, for example, designed to conduct low-profile urban surveillance, or more directly the effort to engineer super-stealth clothing for soldiers using the scientific principles behind squid skin.

But this isn't a case of dangerous technological advancement being engineered for a military or defense setting — ostensibly, the Swiss researchers believe this will have application in thwarting thefts and damages in public life. And it well might, if enough people get their faces seared that it begins to act as a deterrent.

On the other hand, embracing this defense system would be a decision fraught with risk. After all, the first time an innocent person mistakenly gets foamed — and if it ever became a truly pervasive feature, it seems reasonable to expect such would someday happen — the owners of such machines could end up feeling the heat themselves.