Ambulance Drone Could Boost Cardiac Arrest Survival Rate From 8% To 80%

An unmanned, autonomously navigating ambulance drone developed by a Dutch graduate student could someday be the first responder to countless instances of cardiac arrest, saving untold lives in the process. The drone features a built-in AED (automated external defibrillator) and homes in on an emergency caller via their mobile phone signal, arriving at the scene within a mere minute.

The prototype three-engined drone was developed by Alec Momont, a graduate student at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands and is the centerpiece of his graduate program at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering.

Momont realized that the convergence of several new but separate technologies – light and portable AEDs, reliable robotic drone aircraft, and autonomous GPS location – have made the concept of an “ambulance drone” realizable at last. The need is great and the numbers are daunting: “Some 800,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest in the EU every year,” explains Momont, “and only 8% survive.”

The main reason for this is the relatively long response time of the emergency services (approx. 10 minutes),” adds Momont, “while brain death and fatalities occur within 4 to 6 minutes.

The ambulance drone can get a defibrillator to a patient inside a 12 sq/km zone within one minute. This response speed increases the chance of survival following a cardiac arrest from 8% to 80%.” Check out this video from TU Delft that shows how the ambulance drone works.

Unique interactive software built into the drone allows direct person-to-person audio and video communication once the webcam-equipped drone has homed in on the caller's location and landed. “Currently, only 20% of untrained people are able to successfully apply a defibrillator,” according to Momont. “This rate can be increased to 90% if people are provided with instructions at the scene.”

Momont foresees a future where ambulance drones are housed at existing EMS stations, thus providing saturation coverage to most urban and suburban areas. He recognizes there are still some hurdles to jump before ambulance drones are commonplace, however.

These obstacles include current laws that prohibit the use of autonomous flying devices, the absence of real world testing on actual cardiac arrest victims, and further refinement of the drone's collision avoidance system. Even so, Momont remains optimistic a fully functional ambulance drone system could be instituted within the next five years.

“The costs should not be an issue;” adds Momont (above), “I have calculated these at approximately €15,000 (just under $19,000) per drone, which is clearly a reasonable amount if you consider the number of lives that could be saved.” (via IFL Science!, images via Gigazine and TU Delft)