The UAE says it plans to use drones to deliver official documents and packages to citizens as part of efforts to upgrade government services.
The battery-operated vehicle, about half a metre across, resembles a butterfly with a top compartment that can carry small parcels. Coloured white and enblazoned with theUAE flag, it is propelled by four rotors.
Local engineer Abdulrahman Alserkal, who designed the project, said fingerprint and eye-recognition security systems would be used to protect the drones and their cargo.
Mohammed al-Gergawi, a minister of cabinet affairs, said the drones would be tested for durability and efficiency in Dubai for six months, before being introduced across the UAE within a year. Services would initially include delivery of identity cards, driving licences and other permits.
"The UAE will try to deliver its government services through drones. This is the first project of its kind in the world," al-Gergawi said today as he displayed a prototype developed for the government.
Proposals for the civilian use of drones have run into practical difficulties elsewhere in the world. In December Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos said his company planned to deliver goods to millions of customers with a fleet of drones, but safety and technical issues mean the plan is unlikely to become a reality in the USA this decade, engineers say.
The UAE drone programme faces similar obstacles, plus temperatures which often exceed 40 degrees Centigrade in summer and heavy sandstorms which occasionally sweep across the desert country.
"Within a year from now we will understand the capabilities of the system and what sort of services, and how far we can deliver. Eventually a new product will be launched across all the country," Gergawi said.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.