DARPA’s Newest Drone Disintegrates After Its Mission

In 2015 DARPA sent out a call for something that sounds straight out of Mission Impossible: “a flock of small, single-use, unpowered delivery vehicles dropped from an aircraft, each of which literally vanishes after landing.” Just two years later, they’ve gotten what they’ve asked for in MORSE Corp.’s ICARUS drone.

The appeal of a dissolving drone to the military is pretty self-evident. In its initial call, DARPA, the Pentagon’s long-running experimental division, highlighted scenarios of first response, when soliders are called into disaster zones with insulin or plasma. In a military setting, it would allow for water or batteries to be delivered quickly to soliders, and the possibilities for reconnaissance are tempting as well. Regardless of use, letting the drones dissolve would mean one less logistical problem to worry about afterwards.

MORSE, founded by MIT graduates, developed a drone made out of what an MIT alumni interview calls a “lightweight film with a guidance system smaller than a tennis ball. The vehicle is made of specially developed polymers that, when exposed to heat or sunlight, quickly depolymerize, or disintegrate, into a clear liquid substance, leaving only the guidance system and delivered supplies upon landing.”

“Developing an aircraft that can meet the accuracy and range requirement [set by DARPA] alone is a challenge,” says MORSE CEO Andreas Kellas. “But add in the disappearing requirement and the problem becomes nearly impossible. That’s when you have to apply the MIT mentality: be creative, tenacious, and figure out how to make the impossible happen.”

The ICARUS project, which stands for Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems program, came with funding goals of $8 million in 2015. Morse won the contract in 2016, and earlier this year they successfully proved their drone could both fly 100 miles and land within 30 feet of its target. Their drone now joins the large family of experimental American military UAVs. Just don’t expect to see one yourself any time soon, especially if it has already done its job.