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DARPA’s ICARUS Project Aims to Build Disappearing Drones

There's always a danger on the battlefield of one side's equipment falling into the hands of the other — at least, until DARPA's ICARUS project succeeds in making equipment that vanishes into thin air when no longer needed.

Short for (believe it or not) Inbound Controlled Air-Releasable Unrecoverable Systems, ICARUS grew out of the military research agency's Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program, which succeeded in making electronic components that can destroy themselves on a molecular level.

One of the results of the VAPR program: a polymer that can be triggered to disintegrate. DARPA

"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," said Troy Olsson, who manages both projects, in a DARPA news release.

Related: Calling the Avengers! DARPA Wants 'Aircraft Carriers in the Sky'

Olsson gave the example of one-way deliveries of goods in war zones or disaster areas. "Vanishing delivery vehicles could extend military and civilian operational capabilities in extenuating circumstances where currently there is no means to provide additional support," he said.

ICARUS will investigate the possibilities for the next two years, using about $8 million in funding.

DARPA is the Defense Department agency that researches and develops emerging technologies for use by the military. The agency indicated in the press release that it expects a better outcome than the Icarus of Greek mythology, where the titular character flew too close to the sun on wax wings. The wings melted and threw him into the ocean to drown.

The program "aims to mimic the material transience that led to Icarus' demise, but leverages that capacity in scenarios with more uplifting endings," DARPA said.