China Surveills Citizens Using Drones That Look Like Birds

Experts warn about the 'frightening new level' of surveillance that China could conduct on its citizens with the new bird drones.

China unveils bird drones.
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Experts warn about the 'frightening new level' of surveillance that China could conduct on its citizens with the new bird drones.

China employs some of the most cutting-edge surveillance technologies to track their 1.4 billion citizens. The gathered data is reportedly being used to assign a “social credit score” on each Chinese citizen. One of the newer surveillance tools that China has deployed is a drone that resembles a bird as part of a project code-named “Dove.”

The drones look like birds, and even flaps its “wings” to get around. Researchers claim that it mimics a dove at around 90 percent accuracy. Instead of a traditional drone, this bird drone dives, gains altitude, and accelerates just like a regular bird would, according to Business Insider.

Each drone weighs around 0.44 pounds and has a 19.7-inch wingspan. It can travel around 24.9 miles per hour for 30 minutes at a time.

The drones have a camera, GPS, flight control system, and satellite communication systems. Experts warn that the bird drones pose an even greater risk to privacy than ever before. This is what Timothy R. Heath, senior international defense research analyst said, according to CNET.

“Any Chinese person should assume that their behavior could be under surveillance and their behavior recorded, no matter where they go outdoors. China’s use of bird drones will extend the government’s surveillance to a frightening new level.”

One of the researchers from Northwestern Polytechnical University that is working on the bird project said that they “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.”

One of the downfalls of the current iteration of the bird drone is that it doesn’t have an anti-collision sensor. This means that the drone could fly into objects when it’s operating low to the ground. Also, its small size and weight mean that it has a hard time operating under intense weather conditions, especially when it’s raining or when there are high winds.

This bird technology comes at the heels of some of the most sophisticated surveillance systems ever implemented. China already uses facial recognition surveillance at events, and biometrics are used when people want to buy train tickets. Police wear smart glasses that have facial recognition software.

The “social credit system” can affect a Chinese citizen’s ability to fly or even to take the train. Wired also detailed how certain dating sites are only available to people with certain scores. Playing too many hours of video games or having unpaid debt can lower one’s score. This can keep someone from being able to buy luxury items, and in the future, could stop someone from trying to “buy breakfast, take a bus and look for jobs.”