By Mirna Sleiman
DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates says it plans to use unmanned aerial drones to deliver official documents and packages to its citizens as part of efforts to upgrade government services.
The wealthy Gulf state is known for its showmanship - it boasts the tallest skyscraper in the world - and its love of high-technology gadgets. The drone project appears to satisfy both interests.
"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.
The battery-operated vehicle, about half a meter (1-1/2 feet) across, resembles a butterfly with a top compartment that can carry small parcels. Colored white and emblazoned with the UAE 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.
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.
Proposals for the civilian use of drones have run into practical difficulties elsewhere in the world. In December Amazon.com Inc 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 United States this decade, engineers say.
The UAE drone program faces similar obstacles, plus temperatures which often exceed 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit) 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.
(Editing by Andrew Torchia)