Ambulance drones could bring defibrillators in minutes

The drone can speed defibrillators to patients at 100kph, potentially saving lives

A prototype ambulance drone developed at Delft University of Technology can bring a defibrillator to help cardiac arrest patients, as shown in this dramatisation.

A prototype ambulance drone developed at Delft University of Technology can bring a defibrillator to help cardiac arrest patients, as shown in this dramatisation.

Someone has collapsed on the ground from cardiac arrest and there's no defibrillator around. What to do? Summon an ambulance drone.

A graduate student at Delft University of Technology in Netherlands has created a prototype drone that can autonomously navigate to a location in minutes and deliver a defibrillator, a device that can help reestablish normal heart rhythm.

Product engineering student Alec Momont of the university's Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering created the drone, which has three rotors and an on-board defibrillator.

The drone would basically be like a mobile version of an automated external defibrillator (AED), which are lightweight, portable, battery-operated devices often found in shopping malls, transport stations and convention centers.

The prototype also has a webcam so that people on the scene of a cardiac arrest can communicate with emergency personnel and follow instructions about how to care for the patient.

The 4kg drone has a carbon-fiber frame and 3D-printed micro-structures. It can navigate via GPS and finds its way to a location using a caller's mobile phone signal. It can fly about 100 kilometers per hour and is able to carry another 4kg worth of payload.

The main merit of the prototype is that by flying over roads, it could get life-saving equipment to a patient before emergency services arrive when every minute counts, according to the university.

"The ambulance drone can get a defibrillator to a patient inside a 12 square km zone within one minute," Momont said in a release. "This response speed increases the chance of survival following a cardiac arrest from 8 percent to 80 percent."

A YouTube video shows a dramatisation of how the drone would be used, with a woman picking it up at the entrance to a building where her father has collapsed.

The drones would cost 15,000 euros (US$19,074) each and could help treat some of the roughly 800,000 people who suffer cardiac arrest in the EU every year, according to Momont.

One obstacle to implementation is that Dutch law currently forbids autonomous drones. Another is that the device's ability to avoid obstacles in its path must be improved.

Still, Momont believes the machines could be helping people within five years and is working with partners including Ghent University Hospital and the Amsterdam Ambulance Service.

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