Oct 16, 2017

Dubai police to fly multirotor hoverbikes: What could possibly go wrong?

Dubai Police are making plans for a drone division that will use manned and unmanned airframes for a variety of policing purposes


The magical kingdom of Dubai continues to cement its dual reputations as both the world's most future-forward city, and the most desperate for attention, with the announcement that it plans to add quadcopter-style hoverbikes to its police fleet.

The police hoverbike was announced at GITEX, the biggest technology expo in the gulf region. Under electric power, it can fly a pilot at up to 70 km/h (43 mph) with a programmed maximum height of 5 meters (16 ft). It'll also fly unmanned with a top speed closer to 100 km/h. Range is in the 20-25 minute area, with recharge times around 3 hours – but batteries are swappable to keep these things in the air if necessary.

Let's make no bones about this; this is 100 percent a publicity stunt, and probably quite a dangerous one. The hoverbikes in question are a Russian design that we've covered before, the Hoversurf Scorpion 3.

You can read our full opinion on this airframe here. Suffice to say, at the time, we recommended the Scorpion mainly for "aspiring amputees" due to the close proximity between spinning blades and fleshy legs, but that's far from the biggest safety issue here. There's a big difference between being risk-taking aviation pioneers like the Hoversurf team, and deploying a barely-stable early prototype into uncontrolled, public, urban airspace.

In most countries, it's currently illegal to fly sub-2kg consumer grade camera drones like the DJI Mavic over a crowd, because the fact is they sometimes drop out of the sky, and 2 kilograms with fast spinning blades is already a huge liability if it lands on somebody's head from any kind of height.

The idea of flying these hoverbikes, in the embryonic state this tech is in, with their max flight load of 300 kilograms and two-foot spinning propellers, over traffic or anywhere near people for fast response crime fighting … It's so vastly irresponsible that it's hard to believe a police force would have anything to do with it.

In an interview at GITEX with Gulf News, a Dubai Police representative pointed out that the initial deal is for prototype hoverbikes for further testing, with the department making plans for a drone division that will use manned and unmanned airframes for a variety of policing purposes.

I suspect we'll see some more very public demo flights around Dubai, over roped-off areas, and then these things will go in the same dusty shed as the firefighting jetpacks we've heard so little about since their launch back in January. Then the people that take these kinds of vehicles seriously can get on with the job of developing them into safe, reliable and realistic transport options, while Dubai pounces upon the next piece of ostentatious, out-there tech to flash about way before it's ready.

Watch the Hoversurf Scorpion in flight, in its Dubai Police livery.

New Atlas

by Loz Blain