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These aren’t Harry Potter-style magical motorbikes; the tech is already being tested in the UAE.

Hannah Walhout
October 27, 2017

Late last week, it was revealed that the Abu Dhabi government is in talks to incorporate flying motorcycles into their fleet of police vehicles. The bikes, developed by Russian tech incubator Skolkovo, are still in preliminary testing stages — but this development is yet another sign that the United Arab Emirates is positioning itself as a global leader in personal air vehicles. 

Related: Flying Water Taxis Are Coming to Geneva Next Year

What exactly is a personal air vehicle? It’s basically what it sounds like: a compact, comfortable transportation device that individuals and small groups can operate intuitively and safely in the air. And this Jetsons-style future is already underway in the UAE.

A few weeks ago, the emirate of Dubai began testing flying drone taxis — also known by the not-at-all-menacing-sounding brand name Volocopter—in the hopes of getting a full system off the ground in five years. Earlier this year, the same emirate conducted trial runs of a different model of “autonomous aerial vehicle” in partnership with the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority.  

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The UAE, a quickly-developing nation of skyscraper cities connected by long desert highways, has many reasons to pursue these aerial transportation alternatives. In large cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, studies have tallied about one car for every two people (a stat that beats out other major cities like New York City and London), and cars — especially big ones — are an important part of social life.

The roads there were once some of the most dangerous in the world, with congested highways and driving practices like tafheet (street racing) making traffic accidents the number two cause of premature death in 2016. Could self-steering vehicles that sail above road traffic be the answer to the country’s frequent traffic jams and reckless driving problems?

Another advantage of flying police vehicles could be easier access to the country’s many high-rise apartments and record-breaking skyscrapers. Dmitriy Peskov, a director at Russia’s Agency for Strategic Initiatives (which helped develop the technology), told Russian government news agency TASS that “in Abu Dhabi, evacuation from high-rise buildings is a great problem. Firefighters don’t have cranes that high.”

Skyscraper fires and other emergencies, like the blaze that erupted at Torch Tower in August, are a real concern in this country — and the upward growth isn’t stopping anytime soon.

“Naturally, it is clear that the vehicles don’t fly far,” said Peskov, “or for long. But they can already climb to altitudes of several dozen meters.” While the timeline for implementation in Abu Dhabi is unclear, rumor has it that neighboring emirate Dubai is also looking into applications for their own police force.

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