Ambulance Drones: The Future of Emergency?

Ambulance drones are designed to carry life-saving treatments to 911 callers. Equipped with AEDs, Narcan and/or a tourniquet, drones are capable of reaching patients faster than an ambulance, and can reach remote or otherwise obstructed people in need.

Advances in medical technology are often the result of decades of work. That timeline is getting shorter the more we innovate and apply new technologies, which is exactly what happened with the development of smaller drones. Today, when we think of drones, we think of our neighbor’s new toy. Sometimes they have cameras attached, sometimes they are used to deliver items between homes, but mostly they are a result of advances in technology that allow us to build smaller electronics. In this case, they were designed for consumer-use. But, as with many things in technology, someone saw an opportunity for something different. They saw a way to use this new, smaller-scale unmanned aviation vehicle (UAV) to help people. Thus, the idea of an ambulance drone was born.

Drones were first developed for military use in high-risk scenarios, potentially as far back as 1849. That year, Austria used unmanned balloons stuffed with explosives during an attack on Venice. Now, that’s not really a drone, but it shows that humans have been seeking ways to engage in combat without risking friendly lives. There has been a huge amount of evolution since then, but we aren’t historians here, our area of expertise lies elsewhere. However, Interesting Engineering has a fabulous rundown of the history of drones, should you desire to learn about it.

Since we have learned to scale down our hardware while increasing its capability, drones have been used in online deliveries, food deliveries, crop defense for farmers, and amid the coronavirus pandemic, neighbors used drones to share a meal or loan a cup of sugar. Humans are always seeking new ways to get tasks accomplished, whether it’s simplifying a process or finding a new way to help people, we are in a constant cycle of trying to better our lives. 

Enter the ambulance drone. If ever there was a product that could benefit our entire world population, it’s an ambulance drone. Drones are capable of reaching an emergency situation faster than a traditional ambulance for a variety of reasons. It doesn’t adhere to a roadway infrastructure, meaning it can take the quickest route to the person. In doing that, it avoids traffic congestion and construction, which can cause delays. It can also reach areas of the world that cars and emergency vehicles may not be able to reach, save a helicopter. But even in that scenario, an ambulance drone could carry the lifesaving treatment someone needs to stay alive until the experts arrive on the scene.

In 2014, a Dutch-based student unveiled a prototype of an ambulance drone. It carried a defibrillator and could reach speeds of 100km/h (60 mph), designed to reach heart attack victims within minutes. The drone tracks emergency mobile calls and uses GPS to navigate. Once there, a paramedic can walk a victim or someone on the scene through how to use the equipment via an onboarded camera.

“Around 800,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest in the European Union every year and only 8.0 percent survive,” Momont, 23, said at the TU Delft University.

“The main reason for this is the relatively long response time of emergency services of around 10 minutes, while brain death and fatalities occur within four to six minutes,” he said in a statement.

“The ambulance drone can get a defibrillator to a patient within a 12 square kilometre (4.6 square miles) zone within a minute, increasing the chance of survival from 8 percent to 80 percent.”

Fast forward to 2021 and you can find healthcare systems in various states that are either already using or are taking part in a pilot program using ambulance drones. Some have been revamped to carry one person, some are smaller but carry AED, Narcan or a tourniquet. All are equipped with a way to communicate with 911 center dispatchers who can convey instructions on how to use the provided equipment. 

It is truly the age of technology and there are no limits to what we can accomplish. The implementation of ambulance drones is something we may see a lot of in the future. Their ability to reach unreachable areas to deliver medication and equipment, to assist in search and rescue operations, to retrieve blood and tissue samples and who knows what else shows that this is going to stick around. And, who knows, someday someone could find an even better way to save lives.

About the Author

Pieter VanIperen, Managing Partner of PWV Consultants, leads a boutique group of industry leaders and influencers from the digital tech, security and design industries that acts as trusted technical partners for many Fortune 500 companies, high-visibility startups, universities, defense agencies, and NGOs. He is a 20-year software engineering veteran, who founded or co-founder several companies. He acts as a trusted advisor and mentor to numerous early stage startups, and has held the titles of software and software security executive, consultant and professor. His expert consulting and advisory work spans several industries in finance, media, medical tech, and defense contracting. Has also authored the highly influential precursor HAZL (jADE) programming language.

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