A new Chinese drone can mimic the flight of birds to perform undetectable surveillance from the sky.
Researchers at Northwestern Polytechnical University in the Shaanxi province of China have developed flocks of robotic birds equipped with high-tech surveillance technology. The ‘spy bird’ programme was first reported by the South China Morning Post. Around 30 military and government agencies are said to already be using the drones for surveillance. The spy birds programme, code-named ‘Dove’ is said to currently be small in scale, but could see wider use in the future in both military and civilian areas.
Unlike conventional drones, the bird drones mimic the flapping action of bird wings. They produce little noise and are realistic enough to be able to fly alongside real birds. This makes them hard to detect from the ground. The Dove drones weigh around 200 grams, have a wingspan of about 50 centimetres, and can fly at speeds of up to 40 kilometres per hour for around 30 minutes. They are fitted with a high-definition camera, GPS, and satellite communications links. The wings are driven by an electric motor, and deform slightly when moving up and down. This helps to generate lift, as well as thrust to drive the drone forward. On-board software helps to counter any jerky movements to allow the cameras to take sharp images.
At present, the drones are not able to maintain course in strong winds or heavy weather. They also lack anti-collision capability, which limits their use at low altitudes or near airports. Researchers stress that the bird drones are still in the early stages, although they believe the technology has the potential for large-scale use. Aside from military surveillance, potential uses could include emergency response, disaster relief, environmental protection and urban planning. The bird drones are the most recent robot to be inspired by biological organisms. At Springwise, we have reported on a number of others, including robotic insects and a robot snake that can crawl though pipes. What uses might there be for drones that can mimic animals?