China's Dove Surveillance Drone Looks and Flies Like an Actual Bird

Oh yeah, and it costs about $1.52 billion...with a "b."

GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images

Unmanned aerial vehicles with biomimetic design are nothing particularly new in the industry. We’ve seen nature inspire the aesthetics of drones quite often, but China’s new Dove drone certainly seems like a milestone in this particular niche. According to Business Insider, the Dove’s physical design and aerial movements are so similar to the real thing that it can simulate about 90 percent of an actual dove’s movement and fly undetected by advanced radar systems.

It isn’t merely the fact that these drones look like birds that give them an edge (which it does, as these robot-birds have reportedly gone unnoticed as fakes by real birds); they’re not aided by rotors or even fixed-wings. The Dove drone’s wings flap like a bird’s, which isn’t solely an aesthetic choice, but one that allows the wings to change shape while the drone climbs high altitudes, accelerates, or swoops back down. 

Additionally, the Dove’s rotor-less nature provides a significant noise-reduction element that’s certainly appreciated by those aiming to use this as a surveillance tool. In those terms, the Dove is well-equipped with a high-definition camera, GPS antenna, flight control system, and a data link that can communicate with satellites. Naturally, the Dove has already been tested in the Xinjiang region and in at least five Chinese provinces in the country by around 30 government agencies. 

Development of the Dove is spearheaded by Professor Song Bifeng at Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xi'an. His peer, Associate Professor Yang Wenqing of Northwestern Aeronautics School and member of the Dove team, said that “the technology has good potential for large-scale use in the future,” and that “it has some unique advantages to meet the demand for drones in the military and civilian sectors.”

The Dove is as light and as small as you’d imagine a drone trying its hardest to be a bird would be. With a weight of 7.05 ounces (200 grams) and a wingspan of nearly 20 inches, the Dove can fly 25 miles per hour for up to 30 minutes. That’s pretty substantial for a small, rotor-less drone aimed primarily at infiltrating certain areas undetected and garnering information for half an hour before simply sending another one out

While the Dove may seem like an interesting drone to get your hands on for the mere awe of how far we’ve come in the UAV industry, try to curb your enthusiasm. Reported estimates put this drone in the $1.52 billion range, with the intended use-cases seemingly leaning toward law enforcement purposes, anyway. However, should development continue to refine this device and find ways to cut manufacturing costs and letting the public get a hold of this, the Dove could, by all accounts, become a thoroughly useful security drone for large residential properties or public parks. For now, you can probably err on the side of nature when spotting that bird perched atop your backyard tree and be fairly certain that it’s the real thing.

Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium
The Drive