LONDON-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. 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.

‘The scale is still small,’ she told the South China Morning Post.

‘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.