China is stepping-up its mass surveillance, with a flock of camera-equipped drones designed to look like doves.
The surveillance drones are fitted with flapping wings, allowing them to swoop, dive and glide just like the real thing.
The robotic spies are almost indistinguishable from real doves and have even been spotted flying in flocks of real birds – helping them to avoid detection from radar.
The machines are fitted with all the technology of a top-end spy drone, including a high-definition camera for photographs and video clips, GPS antenna, flight control system, and satellite data link.
More than 30 military and government agencies have already deployed the birdlike drones to spy on the population, sources claim.
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According to the South China Morning Post, these Big Brother-like doves can be found in the skies above the Xinjiang region of northwest China.
The 'dove drones' weigh less than half a pound (200 grams) and sport a wingspan of some 20 inches (50 centimetres).
These spy drones can fly at speeds of up to 25 mph (40km/h) for up to 30 minutes.
The technology is still in its early stages of development and purportedly struggles to continue surveillance in adverse weather like strong wind, snow and heavy rain.
China has deployed some of its surveillance drones over the country's westerly region of Xinjiang Uygur, which borders with Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
This area is home to a large Muslim population, and is viewed by the government as a hotbed for separatism, according to the South China Morning Post.
This view has led to heavy surveillance, with the flying robotic drones becoming an integral part of the process.
The drone programme is being spearheaded by Song Bifeng, a professor at Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xian, China.
Yang Wenqing, an associate professor at the School of Aeronautics at the institute and a member of Professor Song's team, confirmed the use of the new technology.
'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.'
The dove project is believed to be the first wave of a new generation of drones that imitate biological movements and can evade human detection - even radar.
Unlike most unmanned aerial vehicles, the doves do not use fixed wings or rotor blades. Instead, they use life-like flaps of their wings to move.
This allows the drones to fly, swoop and dive just like its biological equivalent.
As it stands, the robotic birds are able to replicate roughly 90 per cent of the animals' movement. They can operate silently, making them very difficult to detect.
The developers behind the project claim they are so life-like that real birds can often be seen flying alongside them.
The robotics team conducted almost 2,000 test flights before deploying the drones in real-life situations.
The applications for the technology could be widespread, and developers are already hard at work refining the drones to make them even more realistic.
They believe that by adding feathers to the drone, it could help the dove-like bots avoid more sophisticated forms of detection.
Flying slowly at low altitude makes the drones hard to spot, especially for radar.
The most sensitive form of radar – known as holographic radar – can recreate a 3D shape based on what it detects.
However, there is no guarantee this technology would be able to reliably detect the drones.
Professor Li Yachao, a military radar researcher at the National Defence Technology Laboratory of Radar Signal Processing in Xian, believed there is 'no guarantee' this would technology could pick-up the drone.
'It would be a serious threat to air defence systems,' he added.
WHAT IS RADAR?
Radar is an acronym, which stands for Radio detection and ranging.
It uses high-frequency radio waves and was first developed in World War Two to aid fighter pilots.
It works in a simple manner, a machine sends out a wave and then a separate sensor detects it when it bounces back.
This is much the same way that sight works, light is bounced off an object and into the eye, where it is detected and processed.
Instead of using visible light, which has a small wavelength, radar uses radio waves which have a far larger wavelength.
By detecting the range of waves that have bounced back, a computer can create an image of what is ahead that is invisible to the human eye.
This can be used to see through different materials, in darkness, fog and a variety of different weather conditions.
Scientists often use this method to detect terrain and also see to study archaeological and valuable finds.
As a non-invasive technique it can be used to gain insight without degrading or damaging precious finds and monuments.