Follow TV Tropes


Surveillance Drone

Go To

A small (usually basketball sized or smaller) robot whose purpose is to record or transmit an A/V feed. Usually hovers, but other variations exist.

They sometimes overlap with Spy Bots but are more closely related to harmless Attack Drones, likewise, sometimes they are magical instead of technological in nature.

As Sinister Surveillance, many these bots are iconic ways to identify the setting as a dystopia of Big Brother Is Watching.

See also Literal Surveillance Bug and Patrolling Mook. Contrast with Animal Eye Spy. Might be deployed by the, well, Drone Deployer.



    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi: Asakura's artifact, the Oculus Corvinus/Raven's Eyes. Six small, flying robots used for spying and information-gathering. Perfect for the School Newspaper Newshound. One chapter came up with a more complicated use for them, involving using a ghost to transmit information from one camera to another, so other people can watch the action without being detected.
  • Lyrical Nanoha has the Wide Area Search spell, which has Raising Heart releasing inconspicuous floating energy orbs that remotely scan areas.
  • The Android Saga of Dragon Ball Z reveals that Red Ribbon Army scientist Dr. Gero has insect-sized robots monitoring the heroes for years, studying their techniques so his Androids would know exactly how to beat them. Another, possibly separate, robot was collecting DNA samples so he could create Cell.
  • In Ergo Proxy, Vincent and Pino have escaped Romdeau and are now living in somewhat of a shanty-town, with about 15 people in its precinct. Vincent almost has a run-in with one, and after he and Pino settle in, more are sent out. Raul, the newly-appointed Director-General of the Citizen Security Bureau is to blame for this.
  • In Hunter × Hunter, Musse's Nen ability, Secret Window, functions like this. It takes the form of three small owl-like psychic constructs that follow a target and allows Musse to see and hear everything that the owls can see. One of them requires physical contact with the target but cannot be seen or interacted with by anyone but Musse, though the other two owls' traits are unknown. Secret Window continues to function even after Musse's death too, which has a purpose as his boss, Benjamin, inherits the owls and can see and hear through them.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Universe: the Rigellian Recorders.
    • In Incredible Hulk: The End a Rigellion Recorder leaves behind a floating orb shaped one to watch over Bruce/Hulk as the Last of His Kind on a post-nuclear holocaust Earth.
  • Astro City: In the story Father's Day, Jack-In-The-Box has one in the fight with the Brass Monkey. This is because he's the third Jack-In-The-Box, taking over for his predecessor whose wife is having a child. The camera lets Jack-2 monitor from his basement headquarters and give Jack-3 advice and tactical updates.
  • In The DCU, this is one of the functions of Mister Terrific's T-Spheres.
  • Judge Dredd: There are a lot of surveillance drones hovering around Mega City One so that the Judges can spy on the people.
  • Copperhead: Boo has one he uses to collect all available evidence by digitally mapping crime scenes.
  • The Robin villain "Jaeger" uses surveillance drones to track his targets and film his kills. He sells the ensuing snuff films on the black market.

  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: Metallia's troops get such a spell to connect with her crystal ball, so she can evaluate their combat performance, not that they're told that's what it does.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Incredibles: Syndrome used these on his remote volcanic island hideout
  • In Felix the Cat: The Movie , the Duke used floating cubes with spotlights shining out of them as a sort of observation device to support his army of mechanized cylinders.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • One of these (called a "Public Eye") appears near the beginning of Robert A. Heinlein's novel Friday. It's used by police to detect crimes in progress.
  • Larry Niven's short story "Cloak of Anarchy" had the Copseye, which was used to monitor Free Parks. It also had a stunner to knock out those breaking the Parks' sole rule: don't hurt others.
  • Uglies: Aya has one of these named Moggle that she treats like a pet.
  • The optic probe device used by the Martians in The War of the Worlds - the book and all movies - roughly fills this trope.
  • In Heart of Steel, Shark Reef Isle has a number of these patrolling the island lair of super-villain Alistair Mechanus, variously resembling insects or floating balls.
  • One appears in the 2005 Nick Velvet story "The Theft of the Empty Paint Can". At the time, drone technology was so new that the editor felt compelled to explain that this was a real item.
  • The Mothballed Spaceship by Harry Harrison. The protagonists are trying to get on board a mothballed space battleship that blasts anything that gets too close. They try sending in tiny robots, making them smaller and smaller in an attempt to get past its detectors.
    Obsessed by miniaturization, they constructed a flying-eye appara­tus no larger than the head of a pin that dragged a threadlike control wire after it that also supplied current for the infinitesimal ion drive. This sparked and sizzled its way to within fifteen kilometers of the Indestructible before the all-seeing sensors detected it and neatly blasted it out of existence with a single shot.
  • Laszlo Hadron and the Wargod's Tomb: Mat joins in on part of the novl's events in the form of one of thse, since his physical form is neither mobile nor portable.
  • In Empire Games, the United States of Timeline-2 sends drones to investigate other worlds. Sometimes they come back, sometimes they don't. They're very concerned when one timeline, which seems to have a kind-of-20th-century level of technology, reacts in a way which suggests they know what it is.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Book of Boba Fett. Fennec Shand has a small, repulsor-driven, spherical recon droid stored in the buttstock of her rifle. It slips in and out of Bib Fortuna's palace unnoticed, mapping the entire place, and giving her and Boba a comprehensive layout and guard headcount.
  • Stargate Universe: the Confession Cam.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Goa'uld have access to these.
    • The SGC's MALP probes qualify as a more primitive variation, as do the UAV drones.
  • Stargate Atlantis: the Wraith have them, as well.
  • Human journalists in Babylon 5 regularly use hovering cameras.
  • MST3K has its CamBot.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985) episode "To See The Invisible Man" had floating security drones used to watch for people breaking laws.
  • Doctor Who:
    • One of these turns up in the story "Silence in the Library" as a link to Cal.
    • A Classic Series example: The Fifth Doctor's second story, "Four to Doomsday", also features a similar device, known as the Monopticon, patrolling the corridors of Monarch's massive spaceship.
  •'s web series Alpha House has the Watt Brothers only come to meetings on a video receiver and camera mounted on a drone.
  • Batman (1966) featured a variant on this trope:: a remotely-controlled model plane that tracked radio signals to their origin, which would have seemed a very high-tech concept in 1966.
  • Season 2 of American Gods (2017) introduces the Greek giant turned God of Sinister Surveillance, Argus. He uses bird-shaped drones (presumably as either a nod to or a mockery of Wednesday's own) among many of his other tools of trade to spy on people. One of them is destroyed by a raven right as it picks up Shadow's whereabouts.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Champions supplement Gadgets! had a "TV Spy Eye" device.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The prying eye and eyes of the king spells.
  • The Wizard Eye spell in GURPS: Magic. There's also a Wizard Nose...
  • Warhammer 40,000; The servo skulls for the Inquisition, and the Tau drones.

    Video Games 
  • Baldur's Gate 2 had a magical one in the form of the Wizard's Eye Spell. It could go anywhere the player could and was invisible, though not invulnerable. Anything that could see through invisibility, could kill it.
  • As you get closer to Cortex's castle in Crash Bandicoot, these start to appear.
  • Alien surveillance probes are a recurring threat in C-12: Final Resistance, and can raise alarms the moment it catches you on camera. It gets really, really annoying at one section of the first level, where you must deactivate a forcefield, bypass an area with three probes, and reach the other side unnoticed — if one of the probes spots you, it raises an alarm and the forcefield reactivates, forcing you to repeat the entire process all over again.
  • Deus Ex has an augmentation that allows you to deploy one of these to scout (and it can let off an EMP pulse to sabotage electronic devices). It's considered by most players to be excessively expensive for its utility.
  • Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project has a variation that explodes in close proximity to Duke.
  • In Fairune 2, a certain collection entry unlocked on game completion reveals the Blue Temple seagulls as being a type of automated surveillance drone.
  • Fallout 3: Eyebot robots, have a defence laser but are usually friendly to the player character.
    • A RobCo exhibit in Fallout: New Vegas confirms that they can "recognize your face and voice with advanced facial and auditory recognition technology."
      • Some Eyebots in Fallout 3 can call in reinforcements after a certain stage in the game and a random encounter shows two wastelanders discussing whether or not its spying on them whilst it hovers inbetween the pair.
    • In the spinoff game Fallout: New Vegas, your companion Arcade Ganon, who is actually a refugee from the now defunct Enclave and would probably know better, expresses a distrust of your Robot Buddy ED-E, who is a Super Prototype for a model of eyebot that never was produced, specifically because it may be surveiling him.
  • In Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, the player can use a Sikorsky Cypher UAV to scan hostile areas.
  • Half-Life 2: Scanners. They hover right in your face and take a snapshot of you, which creates a blinding flash. Destroying them may net you a battery, which charges up your suit a little bit. A different kind later on also drops Hopper mines and gives your position away to Striders with each photo.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has the Sentrobes, which are flying security cameras with a short-range projectile launcher and the ability to launch self-propelled bombs with a timed fuse.
  • Super Mario Bros.: the hover-cam is operated by the cloud-riding Lakitu's, controlling said camera with a fishing pole, odd but close enough.
  • Mass Effect: standard issue for reporters.
  • Modern Warfare: "OUR UAV IS ONLINE!"
  • PAYDAY 2: The Murky Station level has drones that act as flying security cameras.
  • Perfect Dark: the "Camspy".
  • [PROTOTYPE]: Drones are able to detect Alex and deploy a reaction squad.
  • Rebel Inc. has UAV deployment as support from the Coalition, that act as Defog of War. They are particularly useful to locate Insurgent training camps, so that an Airstrike can wipe them out.
  • StarCraft: Observers are flying cloaked robots that serve as detectors.
  • In X: Beyond the Frontier the Xperimental Shuttle is equipped with a camera drone that is basically an excuse for the devs to have a free-flying external view.
    • X3: Reunion features the tiny Camera Drone (about twice the size of a space suit) which is used in several missions but is otherwise unavailable for use. The Motion Analysis Relay System script package in X3: Terran Conflict and Albion Prelude in allows the fighter drone to coordinate as "Goblins", which can function as a surveillance net, by towing surveillance satellites around the controlling ship, or remotely deploy satellites far away for exploration or target spotting for the missile frigates
    • X: Rebirth has the Beholder ROV, a tiny drone that can be deployed from the Albion Skunk. It's used to scan ships and stations for potential deals, but most players use them for exploring the detailed stations.
  • Ogre Magi in Warcraft II and Warlocks in World of Warcraft have access to a spell, the Eye of Kilrogg, that is essentially a magical version of a surveillance drone (which takes the shape of a big green, disembodied floating eye).
  • In Heroes of the Storm, the Scouting Drone talent and its variants are used to reveal an area for several seconds, exposing stealthed enemies in its radius.
  • The CYPHER drones in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty are cameras with a hover fan. They'll sound the alarm if you're spotted by one, but they don't attack on their own.
  • Remote Eye Cameras in Thief.
  • Halo: The UNSC has a variety of small autonomous surveillance drones. The beginning of Halo 2 even shows camera drones present at a military award ceremony. The Covenant also have their own version, known as "Eyes".
  • Rage (2011) has Authority Drones, which are designed to scout ahead and look for Ark survivors. Their usefulness is debatable, as despite having several in the players face over the course of the game the Authority never seem to collect a picture of you.
  • Project Eden has two kinds of deployable drone, a hovering ball with a limited battery life and a tracked rover with a small energy weapon. Both can press buttons.
  • Command & Conquer:
    • The USA has this option in two flavors in Command & Conquer: Generals. One is bound to a vehicle and increases sight range while detecting invisible enemies, the other is a General power that makes one circle over a certain area indefinitely, like an infinite Spy Satellite power. The latter is cloaked, the former isn't, and both can be shot down by anything that can target air units (the vehicle-bound kind also dies out if the parent vehicle is destroyed.
    • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3: The Imperial Burst Drone is a small dragonfly-shaped robot that can detect disguised units, latch onto vehicles to slow them down, or commit suicide to stun vehicles.
  • Worms WMD features the Mischievous Drone, which flies for several seconds after it's launched in order to scout inside buildings and collect crates for you. An upgraded version that additionally creates a magnetic field can be crafted.
  • Grineer data vaults in Warframe are guarded by sensor regulators, balloon drones that will trip the alarm the moment an intruder gets into their cone of view, conveniently depicted as four lines jutting out from its camera. Don't think about trying to destroy them, as they will also trip the alarm if they survive the damage, unless you've already gathered the data.

  • A Miracle of Science: the robot cameras on dynamic balancing platform.
  • The Tic-Tocs (robot birds) from Gunnerkrigg Court, apparently, though who exactly they're working for is a mystery to the Court and the Forest both. It's eventually revealed that they were built by Kat, as part of a Stable Time Loop to save Annie from her fall off the bridge in one of the earliest chapters.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The main functional difference of the real-life examples compared to fictional ones is that real-life ones tend to be much louder.
  • Micro Air Vehicles are being designed for the army.
  • There was, for a time, a plan to develop softball-sized robots of this type for use on the International Space Station. They would be capable of moving about on their own by using ducted fans to produce thrust. Since the ISS is in a microgravity environment, they would effectively be capable of flying around the station in adherence to the spirit of the trope. Likely served as the inspiration for the SGU Kinos mentioned above.
  • The Air Hogs Hawk-eye is the civilian version, you can even post your findings online.
  • The AR Drone from Parrot has the same capabilities and carries both nose and belly cameras.
    • It spawned an entire family of small helicopter drones (factory- or enthusiast-built) driven by an iPhone or Android device.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Magic Cam


Burst Drone

Deceptively cute recon robots that can tamper with vehicles and detect disguised enemies.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

Main / SurveillanceDrone

Media sources: