The Pentagon Is Developing Disappearing Drones
Within the next two years, DARPA plans on creating drones that vanish into thin air
The U.S. Department of Defense just got a lot closer to creating flying battlefield drones that vanish on command.
This month, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) awarded $5.2 million to two companies to develop disappearing delivery drones. Unfortunately for those excited about the possibility of invisible drones, these devices won’t ever re-materialize after they vanish—they will just self-destruct into oblivion, leaving no trace of military operations.
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has been working on disappearing material since at least 2013, with the inception of the Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program aimed at developing electronic system that could physically disappear when triggered. A statement released at the time explaining the project said VAPR systems would mean the military wouldn’t have to worry about leaving devices or information that could lead to the “compromise of intellectual property and technological advantage.”
DARPA demonstrated some VARP technology last year at their Wait, What? Conference with a laser that triggered a microchip to shatter into dust. At the event, DARPA technical consultant Pae Wu told FedScoop the technology is like Snapchat for hardware.
DAPRA was so pleased with those VAPR results that the agency created the Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems (ICARUS) project last fall. “With the progress made in VAPR, it became plausible to imagine building larger, more robust structures using these materials for an even wider array of applications. And that led to the question, ‘What sorts of things would be even more useful if they disappeared right after we used them?’” VAPR and ICARUS program manager Troy Olsson said in a statement last October. “In discussions with colleagues, we were able to identify a capability gap that we decided was worth trying to close.”
Olsson and the ICARUS team decided to first use VAPR technology for the development of unmanned aircrafts that can deliver supplies to troops without making an environmental impact or adding to a unit’s load. Unlike the namesake of ICARUS, the goal of this venture is to build aircrafts that can dissipate after their mission is complete. Currently, small airplanes deliver supplies by dropping them, then letting them float to their destination on parachutes. This usually require troops either pack up the parachute or leave it behind.
Now, Military & Aerospace Electronics reports that DARPA has awarded $2.9 million to DZYNE Technologies and $2.3 million to Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) to create unmanned aircrafts that can deliver 3-pound payloads to within about 30 feet of a target location. Then—poof—the drones will virtually disappear into the ether, leaving millions of specks no wider than human hair.
DARPA still plans on giving out more ICARUS awards to other companies. PARC and DZYNE will have a chance to enter a second phase of testing and development. Both phases will last 26 months, after which the Department of Defense expects to have aircrafts that become untraceable after dropping into enemy territory.
At that rate, it could only be a few more years before we see this technology used for weapon-carrying drones.