What if the vehicle delivering the goods to a remote village or group of soldiers could just vanish after it made the drop? Sounds crazy, right?
Well, DARPA is hoping to do just that. Their research unit is developing solutions that can carry supplies to their intended destinations and then disappear.
ICARUS, short for Inbound, Controlled, Air- Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems, ICARUS grew out of the military research agency’s Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program, which succeeded in making self-destructing electronic components that can destroy themselves.
Aside from the obvious military uses, DARPA says a vehicle that vanishes in to thin air could also offer an unmanned solution for taking critical supplies to hard to reach areas in the aftermath of events like a natural disaster. Once the load is delivered, personnel wouldn’t have to worry about getting the vehicle back out of the area and it would vanish before the human eye thereafter.
Named after the character in Greek mythology whose wings made of wax and feathers melted off when he flew too close to the sun.
“Vanishing delivery vehicles could extend military and civilian operational capabilities in extenuating circumstances where currently there is no means to provide additional support,” said ICARUS program manager Troy Olsson.
“Sophisticated electronics are increasingly pervasive on the battlefield for a range of applications that include remote sensing and communications,” Olsson explained in a statement. “However, it is nearly impossible to track and recover every device, resulting in their unintended accumulation in the environment, potential recovery and use by unauthorized individuals, and compromise of intellectual property and technological advantage.”
DARPA is clear in its Friday announcement, the vehicle must actually disappear to the human eye, leaving no visible residue and a maximum remnant size of 100 μm in the longest dimension.
“Camouflaging schemes, removal or departure of the vehicle, and other approaches that would be described as ‘technically disappeared’ are not of interest to DARPA,” the announcement reads.
Guidelines for the project (see Attachment below) state that the vehicle must not be longer than three meters. It will have four hours from load delivery or within 30 minutes of morning civil twilight, assuming a night drop, to degrade–whichever is earlier. It will need to land a load up to 3 pounds within 10 meters of a targeted landing spot.
The finished product will be allowed a tennis ball sized guidance or control system exempt from the transience requirement. The rest of the vehicle must autonomously disappear.
DARPA will not accept projects where “the vanishing is triggered remotely via a radio frequency, optical, or other communications channel.”
The research agency says that this feat will be possible because of developments made in the field of disappearing materials through both DARPA’s VAPR program, which kicked off two years ago, and in the wider materials science field.
The program is set to last for 26 months, divided into two phases, with total funding of about $8 million. The first will last for 14 months and focus on engineering of the vehicle itself, and the second for 12 months and focus on the material that the craft will be made of.
The program’s objective is to have a “field-testable prototype by the end of it’s second year.”