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Dubai’s latest techno-boondoggle is a passenger-carrying autonomous quadcopter

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Up, up, and no bloody way

Residents of the city of Dubai are reportedly getting a new toy this summer: a autonomous quadcopter drone capable of carrying passengers. According to a report from the Associated Press, the head of Dubai’s Roads & Transportation Agency announced it would be testing the single-person quadcopter, made by Chinese drone company Ehang, as (in the words of the AP) a “transport alternative.”

The drone in question was on display at an event during the World Government Summit, but attendees dismissed it as “just another curiosity,” says the AP, until Road & Transportation head Mattar Al Tayer announced: “This is not only a model [...] We have actually experimented with this vehicle flying in Dubai's skies.” Al Tayer then said the craft would be flying by the summer, but did not give any other details.

Color us extremely skeptical. Although Ehang has been showing off its self-flying drone, the Ehang 184, since CES last year, we don’t have any hard evidence the thing works as advertised. We’ve seen it fly, but not with someone inside, and even if Ehang did trust it with a human on board, that doesn’t mean it would be able to safely navigate shared airspace, including managing taking off and landing.

Ehang’s attitude toward marketing doesn’t inspire confidence either: the company relies more on computer-generated footage and soaring soundtracks than real video clips of the 184 being developed. So far, this “autonomous helicopter” has been most effective in generating headlines for Ehang, which also happens to sell regular consumer drones.

Dubai’s authorities, though, have a proven love of flashy gadgets. The city’s police has a fleet of million-dollar supercars; its fire service has placed orders for unproven jetpacks for fighting blazes in skyscrapers; and the city has hyped up a vague partnership with hyperloop firm Hyperloop One. Announcing tests of an autonomous, person-sized quadcopter is simply par for the course; but don’t expect too much in the future.