Air vehicles that self-destruct once the job is done, such as distributing relief to far-flung villages during a natural disaster, are in the works for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the U.S. defense department.
DARPA recently launched ICARUS, a program aiming to create and launch air vehicles that can deliver critical supplies and vaporize into thin air afterwards.
ICARUS stands for Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems and alludes to the myth of Icarus, who soared using feather and wax for wings and drowned when his wings disintegrated.
These materials are intended to vanish and remain undetected by enemies when left behind after battle.
This new endeavor - scheduled for a 26-month run with an $8 million budget - is part of the Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program launched by DARPA two years ago to steer forward the development of small electronics, aimed to complete the job and then self-destructing shortly after.
VAPR and ICARUS program manager Troy Olsson said they are currently developing "structurally sound transient materials" for the project. These materials include tiny polymer panels changing directly from solid to gas, as well as electronics-bearing strips of glass with high-stress components that can readily shatter into ultra-fine pieces once used.
Vanishing delivery vehicles are poised to help extend military and civilian operations, where provisions such as water and emergency medical kits can add great burden to military units.
Of particular concern is providing perishable goods such as food, vaccines, insulin, and blood and plasma supplies to hard-to-reach destinations after a quake or tsunami - without the difficulty of transporting the vehicles out of the affected areas and causing negative environmental effects.
According to Olsson, this is a good prospect for industrial partners who seek to invent transient materials, scale up production, and satisfy requirements such as those related to aerodynamics.
He added that these developments make it possible in the future to build larger structures of the same materials and purpose, including disappearing right after use.
It is unlikely, however, for these vanishing delivery vehicles to be available commercially, as they are limited to "extenuating circumstances" where there are no other sound options.