Dubai Plans to Start Drone Deliveries Within the Year

Brian Heater
Tech Columnist
February 10, 2014

United Arab Emirates Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum (left) and his son, Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum, watch an aerial drone during Virtual Future Exhibition in Dubai Feb. 9. Photo: Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

The United Arab Emirates government is in the process of testing a fleet of small, unpiloted flying drones designed to get official documents and packages like driver’s licenses, ID cards and permits into the hands of citizens.

According to a Reuters report, the plan is aimed at “upgrad[ing] government services,” although technological showmanship seems to be a motivator here as well. The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, is in the UAE.

The news follows a much-publicized announcement by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos back in December. Bezos said that Amazon was developing its use of autonomous airborne vehicles for speedy deliveries of small packages, bypassing traditional methods like UPS and the postal service.

Bezos’ plan is still seen as an unmanned flight of fancy, as any large-scale use of flying robots will almost certainly get bogged down in FAA approval in the United States. The UAE’s plan will likely have less red tape to work through, given its government backing from the outset.

The UAE’s drones are quadcopters, small craft with four rotors that can be pre-programmed with delivery coordinates. They fly without human piloting. Early peeks at the drones reveal that they’re similar to many of the commercially available quadcopter drones on the market, albeit with the official UAE seal displayed on their body, should you grow concerned over precisely whose drone is landing on your doorstep.

Future versions of the UAE models will come equipped with built-in eye and fingerprint scanners to help protect their precious government cargo. 

For six months, the autonomous vehicles will be tested for efficiency and durability, according to Minister of Cabinet Affairs Mohammed Abdullah Al Gergawi. The aim is to begin official service within a year. That will likely be before Amazon’s fleet gets off the ground, as the retailer has yet to discuss a timeline.