True Crime Thursday – A Little Birdie Told Me

By Debbie Burke



Photo credit: imtfi CC BY-SA2.0

The day is lovely and you’re out for a walk in the fresh air and sunshine. Homes, stores, buildings, and traffic intersections are far away and so are security cams. You think you’re by yourself (except for the smartphone in your pocket that constantly broadcasts your location).

There, up in the blue sky, you spot a dove circling above you as it floats and dips on wind currents.

Except…it might not be a bird.

Surveillance drones masquerading as birds have been around for almost a decade (that we know of!).

In China, the Northwestern Polytechnical University Dove Program has flown to new heights. Weighing in at seven ounces, with a wing span of 20 inches, the Dove drone is indistinguishable in size from a real bird. It is also nearly silent and virtually undetectable, even by radar.

According to a 2018 article in Business Insider:

“Each of the drones has a built-in high-definition camera, a GPS antenna, a flight control system and data link with satellite communication capability.”

The “birds” are lifelike enough to fool real birds. The same article reports:

“…these robotic birds can go undetected in the presence of other animals, with some birds even flying alongside them.”

China is using Dove drones for domestic surveillance and law enforcement.

According to the UK publication AI Daily:

“The AI [artificial intelligence] in the robotic bird allows it to fly completely unaided, whilst taking measurements allowing it to compensate for the wind and to avoid other objects. If the camera detects something, the bird can simultaneously interpret this data and it will lock onto anything it perceives to be ‘suspicious’.”

AI Daily goes on to say:

“Cameras will no longer just record video, they will autonomously analyse and interpret the footage live…

After a sufficient amount of this data has been inputted, [web platform] Ella’s AI will be able to autonomously detect criminal activity and will be designed to subsequently alert the police.”

In other words, a fake bird may soon make decisions whether or not someone is arrested for an alleged crime.



TKZers: What plot can you conjure where a “bird” is watching?

Can you think of ways to trick such surveillance? (asking for a friend)




No crime? No murder? What the heck is Debbie Burke doing in her new novella? Check out Crowded Hearts for only $.99 at this link.

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About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with a Heart. The first book in the series, Instrument of the Devil, won the Kindle Scout contest and the 2016 Zebulon contest sponsored by Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Additional books in the series are Stalking Midas, Eyes in the Sky, and Dead Man's Bluff. Debbie's nonfiction articles appear in national and international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers.

24 thoughts on “True Crime Thursday – A Little Birdie Told Me

    • An evil crow drone that goes undercover to infiltrate the crow friends in your back yard?

      Or a law enforcement crow drone sent to catch your serial killer?

      I can totally see the possibilities for you, Sue!

  1. Small drones like that would have relatively low power (both consumption and available). I would suspect they could be jammed fairly easily from sending real-time information (even of they frequency-hop, you can just flood it with power). Stored information might prove more difficult, unless you can change flight parameters and make it crash.

    A laser might blind the lens, maybe even burn it out.

    As far as tricking it, I would think too much stimulus might cause it to be unable to determine what was going on. Several groups of people, large movements in various parts of the field of view (FOV), unexpected noises might all distract or confuse the algorithms used. Detection is based on pixels per foot (or meter), so the wider the FOV, the more pixel density is needed to be able to detect faces or license plates. The narrower the FOV, the less of the image will be seen.

    The way someone walks or moves their hands can provide an indication of intent, so you could also alter your movements to try to give the impression of doing something other than what you’re actually doing.

    Lastly, there’s a lot of work on perfecting Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. It’s not good enough yet, but prototypes I’ve seen are getting there.

  2. To quash bird-looking artificial intelligence could actually be a simple thing if you turn loose my grandson with a jar of peanut butter.

    He manages to get the stuff into some of the weirdest places.

    To him, you’re darn skippy has a completely different meaning.

    I just can’t figure out whom you’d send the research grant application to

  3. Police use drones as well as private company security cameras to monitor activity. My local (University City, MO) police department has drones. The big blue truck in this article ties multiple security camera sources (including drones) and multiple police departments/security services together in a command and control center. As I have told my children to tell their friends. Don’t act a fool in the Loop. You will have 5 or 6 buddies in blue shirts real quick.

    • Alan, drones are gaining popularity in many police departments throughout the US, raising privacy concerns and intrusion on civil liberties. The slope is slippery.

  4. Defeating a drone

    1. Give it a better target. A mannequin with an “opposition” face might draw its attention.

    2. Bird seed. It reacts to other birds. $2 worth of bird feed and change the natural birds in an area.

    There is always, this little baby.
    Hamas attacks Israel with firebombs carried by drones, kites, and balloons. If your enemy is a drone, you build an anti-drone gun.

  5. I can just see a group of ol’ boys down in the delta wearing camouflage and hunting ducks when a flock of drones appears. Old tech vs. new tech.

  6. Doves don’t soar. Prey birds don’t. They zip from one location to the other. These drones would be raptors or owls in the US. But that wouldn’t be a problem in big cities or the suburbs where both have become common. Even worse news for that dove is that it can be legally shot down during hunting season. Drones, sadly, cannot. So, be loud and proud, Chinese drone! Be yourself.

    There’s your short story plot. Some moron deploys a dove drone to spy on some rival marijuana growers, and Bubba blasts the dove out of the sky.

    And in other news suitable for story fodder, moths will be used to deploy weather sensors in remote locations. Moths with sensors dumped from planes have so much stupid attached I can only shake me head. It’s Mr Carlson dropping live turkeys from a plane level stupid. (“WKRP in Cincinatti”)

  7. I can think of loads of plots:

    The killer is momentarily out of sight, and the bird begins to follow an innocent jogger of similar build wearing the same color clothing.

    The crime cartel trains falcons to take out the drones. (The Park Department already lost a drone to a wild eagle defending its turf.)

    The killer anonymously hires several look-alikes to run from the scene while out of sight, the real criminal turns his coat inside out (different color), blows up an inflatable life vest under the coat to change his build, adds a slouch hat to obscure his head and face, and places a pebble in one shoe to alter his gait.

  8. Good piece, Debbie. Makes me think of crook-chasing days long before drones were alive and bugs tried. Crooks did deals in tough-to-tap spots like underground concrete parking garages, elevators stuck between floors, and in laundromats. Dromes are cool… but crooks still rule – tough to get drones and bugs in those places 🙂

  9. Enjoyable post, Debbie. It feeds right into my highly developed paranoia. My inner self is yelling, “Told ya! Told ya!”

    Tricking the drone? Walk around with your head down…but I do that anyway.

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