China Builds Flocks of Bird Spy Drones

The Dove drone

There was a time when people could say that, if something looked, walked, and sounded like a bird, it was a bird. Now, it might be a bird, or it might be a drone – and it could be spying on you.

According to reports, a growing number of Chinese government and military departments are using bird-like drones and other tech to carry out surveillance in as many as 5 provinces. This is all part of an operation that has been aptly code-named Dove, and is headed up by North-Western Polytechnical University professor, Song Bifeng. This means the next time you see a bird when playing at an online casino on your mobile device, it could be China’s government looking for potential funders for its new project!

Beijing is evidently pleased with the professor’s work thus far. The university website claims Bifeng’s contribution and the on-going success of the programme have already been lauded by the People’s Liberation Army. This is not the first time the professor has worked with the country’s military, either. He previously worked on the programme that resulted in the J-20 stealth jet.

Who China Is Spying On

As massive as the scale of the operation sounds, Dove and its bird drones looks set to expand, According to Yang Wenqing, an aeronautics professor involved with it, this was only a sign of things to come.

Wenqin said that, even though it was currently being used for governmental and military purposes, there is scope for it among civilians. She added such technology could end up being used widely, and result in a market worth as much as US$1.54 billion.

At the moment, however, it is being used to keep an eye on sensitive regions along China’s borders. One in particular is an autonomous region known as Xinjiang Uygur. The region’s neighbours include Afghanistan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, and Tajikistan. A large portion of the region’s residents are Muslim, whom Beijing claims have separatist leanings.

Going forward, however, there is also potential for the new technology to be used in environmental conservation, assisting with disasters and other emergencies, and even urban planning and development.

Giving Drones Wings

Hi tech surveillance gets a make over
Source: Pixabay

Until the Chinese government got involved, drones were instantly recognisable. Almost everyone knew the second they heard that characteristic buzzing overhead they’d look up and see something that resembled a plastic octopus after an accident with one of its rotors.

Thanks to the continued to success of Dove, the unmanned vehicles can have wings capable of mimicking those of a real bird in flight. To onlookers, its flapping wings and flight patterns appear entirely natural. What’s more, the buzzing is gone. According to Wenqin, the drones are capable of copying almost 100 pe rcent of the typical movements of a bird’s wings, and are almost entirely silent.

The new tech has even fooled animals. Not only did a flock of sheep pay absolutely no attention to one flown over them as a test – some drones have even been joined in flight by real birds. In fact, professors working on the project claimed their invention has even gone undetected by radar.

A Closer Look

By the sound of things, China’s bird drones can rival anything Alfred Hitchcock could have dreamed up. They have a large, 50cm-wingspan, weigh a light 200g, and can fly as fast as 40km/h for half an hour.

Electric motor-driven crank-rockers drive the wing-flapping mechanism. The drones’ surveillance capabilities are thanks to HD cameras capable of producing crisp images and video when the devices are in motion. Also used in the drones are flight control systems, GPS antennas, and a satellite communication-enabled data link.

Not the First Time

This is not the first time bird-like drones have been seen. In 2012, the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics created an eagle-sized robot bird known as Tian Ying. There is also a high-altitude one being developed by the Harbin Institute of Technology.

The tech is not limited to China, either. In 2013, none other than the US Army acquired more than 30 drones that looked like raptors from Prioria Robotics, a company based in Florida, USA. Clear Flight Solutions, a Dutch company, is also producing drones that look like birds. The skies definitely are not what they used to be.