Jun 29, 2019 I Brett Tingley

Russian Military Shows Off ‘Cyborg’ Owl Spy Drones

This week, the Moscow Times has reported that the Russian military has developed bizarre ‘cyborg’ drones shaped like snowy owls. The avian drone was unveiled at the Russian Defense Ministry’s annual military expo in Moscow this week. Images of the drone shared by the Moscow Times show a massive, menacing owl with a creepy dome-shaped lens where its beak should be. According to the Defense Ministry, the owl drone can be equipped with cameras and other surveillance equipment as well as lasers to help guide artillery and guided air-to-surface weapons.

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Snowy Owl in flight. Or is it a cyborg owl spying on us? It may soon be impossible to tell.

While the owl is sure to fool absolutely nobody with normal vision up close, at a distance the drone could easily be mistaken for an owl gliding in flight. The drone owls weigh just 5 kilograms (11 pounds) and have a range of 20 kilometers (12 miles). The body of the owl can also be swapped out for different bird species such as falcons, making it adaptable for different environments.

While this ‘cyborg’ spy owl may just seem like a kooky prototype, these drones likely represent the future of surveillance and reconaissance, at least in some small part. If the Russians and the Chinese have developed these robotic bird-shaped drones, rest assured that other nations have as well. The U.S. military has been testing their own bird drones since at least 2013. Last year, the South China Morning Post reported on the development of creepy dove-shaped drones being used by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on Chinese citizens in at least five different Chinese provinces. 

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As if snowy owls weren't already terrifying enough.

Just wait until these things go full-on biohybrid. In 2016, some of the biggest biomedical engineering stories concerned half biological, half robotic creatures which combined living flesh and cells with electronics. How much longer until these bird-shaped drones are actually ‘wrapped’ in actual bird blood and guts or other types of biomimicry?

The world’s superpowers already have a long history of attempting to use animals as spies. It now seems as if we can no longer trust any of our seemingly feathered friends flying overhead. Is it time to start shooting every bird out of the sky?

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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