If there's anything we can take from the barrage of delivery drones to emerge recently, its that the technology has the potential to transport objects with unprecedented efficiency. Graduate student Alec Momont from Holland's Delft University of Technology is looking to tap into this ability to reduce emergency response times to cardiac arrest incidents. His Ambulance Drone prototype carries a defibrillator to the scene and promises to dramatically increase the rate of survival.
Receiving treatment quickly can be the difference when it comes to heart attacks, with every passing minute lowering the chances of survival. Although public defibrillators are becoming more common, they aren't everywhere and the public often doesn't know how to use one or hesitates through lack of confidence. Momont says that his solution can transport the necessary equipment to the victim and provide instructions to those in a position to help within a fraction of the time it currently takes emergency services to arrive.
"Some 800,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest in the EU every year, and only 8 percent survive," says Momont. "The main reason for this is the relatively long response time of the emergency services, approx. 10 minutes, while brain death and fatalities occur within four to six minutes. The ambulance drone can get a defibrillator to a patient inside a 12 km sq (4.6 mi sq) zone within one minute. This response speed increases the chance of survival following a cardiac arrest from eight to 80 percent."
In building his prototype Ambulance Drone, Momont developed a new kind of UAV frame that incorporates a toolbox designed to carry medical supplies. He says technological advancements that have enabled devices such as Automated External Defibrillators (AEDS) to become more compact were critical in enabling the design. The drone's carbon composite structure makes it light enough to carry, while rotor arms that fold back allow it to convert into a medical kit weighing 4 kg (8.8 lb), plus up to 4 kg of payload.
Also crucial to Momont's approach is the communications tools built into the drone. As a cardiac arrest occurs and the emergency services are contacted, the drone establishes the location through the phone's signal and GPS. Able to fly at around 100 km/h (62 mph), it promptly makes its way to the scene with defibrillator on board.
An integrated webcam then provides the emergency operators with a live stream of the scene and allowing them to communicate directly with those on the ground and instruct them through the process of applying the defibrillator and treating the patient.
"Currently, only 20 percent of untrained people are able to successfully apply a defibrillator," says Momont. "This rate can be increased to 90 percent if people are provided with instructions at the scene. Moreover, the presence of the emergency operator via the drone's loudspeaker helps to reduce the panic of the situation."
Last year we looked at a similar concept called the Defikopter, which is also a UAV tasked with delivering lifesaving technologies to patients in need. The Ambulance Drone does appear to take things one step further, however, by providing a critical communications link between emergency services and those providing the treatment.
There are still considerable hurdles for Momont to overcome before his Ambulance Drone begins saving lives. First and foremost, it is currently illegal to fly autonomous drones in Holland. The solution is also yet to be tested on real patients and the drone's ability to avoid obstacles mid-flight requires further development. Despite all this, Momont has already piqued the interest of certain folk in the medical sector, and is hopeful that the Ambulance Drone could take flight within five years.
You can see a demonstration in the video below.
Source: Delft University of Technology
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