Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Beijing, China (4E) – In China these days, even the “birds” spy on you with high-definition cameras.
China’s omnipresent police have taken to the skies and are testing aerial spy drones that look like birds as part of its national effort to stamp out dissent by instantly identifying any citizen using facial recognition software. These mechanical spies even flap their wings, climb, dive and bank as part of their deceptive camouflage. Dozens of these robot birds have been tested or used in actual operations.
China’s avian spies are taking wing as part of a hitherto secret program code named “Dove.” Chinese media said this program is led by Song Bifeng, a professor at Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xian, capital of Shaanxi province in the northwest. Song was honored by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for his work on Dove.
The main aim of Dove is to develop a new generation of drones with biologically inspired engineering that can evade human and radar detection. The robot birds replicate about 90 percent of the movements of a real dove. They also emit very little noise, making them very hard to detect from the ground.
One scientist even boasted their robots are so lifelike that actual birds often fly alongside them. Song’s team conducted 2,000 test flights before deploying the drones in operations.
The scale of these tests, which is what Beijing calls them, is massive. More than 30 military and government agencies have deployed the bird drones and related devices in at least five provinces over the past few years. Most of these bird spies operate in the restive Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region in the west where a Muslim insurgency fighting for independence from China is spreading. As a result, the Muslim Uyghurs have been singled out for special oppression and surveillance by Beijing.
“We believe the technology has good potential for large-scale use in the future … it has some unique advantages to meet the demand for drones in the military and civilian sectors,” said Yang Wenqing, a member of Song’s team.
Each bird drone is outfitted with a high-definition camera; a GPS antenna; a flight control system and a data link with satellite communication capability. It weighs 200 grams; has a wingspan of about 50 centimetres and can fly at speeds of up to 40km/h for a maximum of 30 minutes.
The flapping mechanism comprises a pair of crank-rockers driven by an electric motor. The wings can deform slightly when moving up and down, which generates lift and thrusts the drone forward.
Specially designed software helps to counter any unbird-like movements to ensure the on-board camera sees and broadcasts sharp images and stable video.
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