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Eye in the Sky: China Spies With Robotic Drone Birds

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By Katherine Hignett, Newsweek

China has been surveilling its residents with high-tech bird-like drones, the South China Morning Post reported.

The sneaky robotic spies, launched by more than 30 government and military agencies, flap through the skies like real birds. They are so convincing, the China Post reports, that real birds often fly beside them.

The spies are equipped with a camera, a GPS antenna and a data link to communicate their findings.

The bird-bots are very quiet and their movements highly convincing, making them hard to spot from the ground, the Post reported. Although the tech has been used in five provinces, agencies have focused the birds on the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region to the west of the country, the Post stated. The region borders a large number of countries including Russia, India and Afghanistan.

Although use of the birds is far from widespread, scientists thinks they hold a lot of promise for the future. “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,” Yang Wenqing, an associate professor at the School of Aeronautics at China’s Northwestern Polytechnical University, told the outlet. Wenqing is part of the team behind the “Dove” programme, which is being led by the university’s Song Bifeng.

As well the military, the tech could aid emergency response and disaster relief teams, and even help with urban planning, the Post reported.

This isn’t the first time armies have turned to the animal kingdom for inspiration. The U.S. deployed trained ravens, cats and pigeons to spy on its enemies during the Cold War, Smithsonian Mag reported.

Combat dolphins and other aquatic mammals scour the seas for underwater mines and missing swimmers. The slippery scouts have been used by nations including the U.S., Business Insider reported.

Like humans, it seems animal soldiers can foster patriotic allegiances. Ukrainian military dolphins are thought to have starved to death after being taken by Russia in 2014. A Ukrainian official recently suggested the dolphins refused to eat from their new Russian trainers.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has been developing its own unusual weapons. The military is creating a non-lethal laser weapon that makes ghostly voices from thin air.

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