United Arab Emirates' Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum (L) and his son Dubai's Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al-Maktoum watch an unmanned aerial drone during Virtual Future Exhibition, in Dubai
In most cases, drones are synonymous with death, destruction and surveillance, but the United Arab Emirates has decided to put the unmanned aircrafts to more constructive use.
The Sheikhdom announced on Monday that it plans to use aerial gadgets to deliver official documents and packages to its citizens as part of efforts to upgrade government services.
Unlike many other proposals for the non-lethal and peaceful use of drones, the project planned by the Emirati government doesn’t only seem helpful but also plausible – especially when compared with the idea suggested by Amazon.com chief executive last year.
Jeff Bezos announced in December that the online retailer was working on developing drone technology to step up its delivery time – pushing Amazon ahead of the e-commerce race in which competitors like Ebay and so many others are struggling to get ahead.
However, technical and safety issues such as packages being shot down by opportunists and thieves made it seem like a distant dream and/or reality.
People are likely to steal packaged goods but certainly not someone else’s driving permit or marriage certificates, right?
While a non-lethal unmanned drone flying over Middle Eastern soil would be a first, the program itself is a first of its kind for the wealthy Gulf state which is otherwise known for spending on frankly useless projects such as the planet’s tallest skyscraper and the word’s most luxurious hotel.
"The UAE will try to deliver its government services through drones. This is the first project of its kind in the world," Mohammed al-Gergawi, a minister of cabinet affairs, said on Monday as he displayed a prototype developed for the government.
Local engineer Abdulrahman Alserkal, who designed the project, told Reuters that fingerprint and eye-recognition security systems would be used to protect the drones and their cargo.
Gergawi 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 licenses and other permits.
However plausible the program might sound, it yet has to overcome certain obstacles such as temperatures which often exceed 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in summer and occasional heavy sandstorms.
"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.