DUBAI (Reuters) - Dubai on Monday showcased a flight for what it said would soon be the world's first drone taxi service under an ambitious plan by the United Arab Emirates city to lead the Arab world in innovation.

The flying taxi developed by German drone firm Volocopter resembles a small, two-seater helicopter cabin topped by a wide hoop studded with 18 propellers.

It was unmanned for its test flight.

Meant to run without remote control guidance and with a maximum flight duration of 30 minutes, it comes with plenty of fail-safes in case of trouble: back-up batteries, rotors and, for a worst case scenario, a couple of parachutes.

Volocopter is in a race with more than a dozen well-funded European and U.S. firms, each with its own science fiction-inspired vision for creating a new form of urban transport that is a cross between a driverless electric car and a short-hop, vertical takeoff-and-landing aircraft.

These include aerospace giant Airbus, which aims to put a self-piloting taxi in the air by 2020; Kitty Hawk, a company backed by Google co-founder Larry Page; and Uber, which is working with partners on its own flying taxi strategy.

"We only go public when we can show something that flies," Alexander Zosel, Volocopter's co-founder and chief innovation officer, told Reuters in an interview ahead of the Dubai trial. "We show facts, not visions."

The company performed its maiden test run in a ceremony staged for Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed.

The UAE has sought to distinguish itself in a region mired in war and strife as a high-tech, forward-looking society.

It plans to send an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021, the Arab world's first mission to space, and Dubai has in many ways led their showy march into the future by introducing the region's first driverless metro and robot policemen prototypes.

"Encouraging innovation and adopting the latest technologies contributes not only to the country’s development but also builds bridges into the future," Sheikh Hamdan said in a statement.

(Reporting by Noah Browning in Dubai and Eric Auchard in Frankfurt; editing by Mark Heinrich)