UAE develops delivery drones to improve government services

Authorities are exploring the possibility of using two prototype drones, unveiled at the Government Summit, for faster and more efficient delivery of government services.

An unmanned aerial drone is displayed during Virtual Future Exhibition in Dubai. Mohammed Al Gergawi, the Minister of Cabinet Affairs in the UAE Government, said the country is developing a delivery prototype. Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
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DUBAI // Aerial drones could be used to deliver vital documents and medicines within a year.

Two prototypes of the small, unmanned craft were unveiled at the Government Summit on Monday.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, personally attended the pilot tests, according to state news agency Wam.

“What these things are best suited for is delivery of small, light value things that are time sensitive, like medicines, identification documents, vital papers and things of that nature,” said Dr Noah Raford, special adviser to the Office of the Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid.

Commercial and civilian use of drones is growing worldwide. In the UAE, they are available in shops and increasingly used for recreational photography.

Dr Raford said the battery-operated drones, which could cost as little as Dh4,000, could fly for up to three kilometres at 40kph and carry objects weighing up to 1.5kg.

"Prices are dropping as technology advances. One part of the reason we are exploring this is because economic and technological feasibility are coming together to deliver high-class services.

“I have seen so many of these things in my friends’ and colleagues’ homes. A year ago when I was speaking about drones and flying vehicles, everyone thought I was crazy. Now, everyone has one in their house. There has been an exponential decrease in price and an exponential increase in usability.”

Mohammed Al Gergawi, the Minister of Cabinet Affairs, said the drones would be tested for durability and efficiency in Dubai for six months and introduced within a year.

“Technology is moving very fast. Largely like any design, this is an experimental process and we are testing various ideas and options and looking to explore how they will be useful, and making sure we can cover some of the contingencies so we can use them some day for government delivery.”

Abdulrahman Alserkal, the Emirati engineer who designed the project, said fingerprint and eye-recognition security systems would protect the drones and their cargo.

Dr Raford said the UAE would be able to use drones for civilian purposes, unlike in other countries where they had run into problems.

“The issues are not technical but regulatory. We have lot more freedom to design a regulatory system that is safe and responsible and achieves the 21st-century goal to deliver advanced services.”