The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has been responsible for some pretty cool — and scary — technology over the years. Recently, DARPA sent out a request for proposal (RFP) for a drone that can vanish completely. People are calling them vampire drones because DARPA wants the drones to be able to disappear within 30 minutes of “morning civil twilight” according to the RFP.
These drones must be autonomous, flying vehicles that can travel to a location, deliver a small payload and then vanish. They can't just hide or return to home base. Think self-destruct and you're on the right path. DARPA calls it the Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems project, or ICARUS.
Sidenote: In case you're rusty on Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of Daedalus. The father-son duo were held captive when Daedalus got the bright idea to build wings out of wax and feathers. During the escape, Icarus got a bit overzealous, flew too close to the sun and his wings melted.
The DARPA version of ICARUS builds on an earlier project called Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR). This project called for the development of electronics that could physically disappear in a controlled manner, such as when dropped into a pool of water.
Both ICARUS and VAPR address a real problem in covert operations: You don't want to leave any trace of your presence for a potential enemy. Dropping supplies by parachute means that the receiving crew has to figure out how to carry or dispose of the delivery mechanism. A vanishing drone would just deliver the goods and then dissolve or sublimate or something.
And DARPA doesn't have to worry about how to make this work — that's what the RFP is for. It will be up to the companies responding to the RFP to propose a solution to the challenge. The project itself has $8 million in funding and will continue for about 26 months. The entire RFP is online if you want to read up on it.