Healthcare Logistics? Meet the Drone That May Save Your Life

Martijn Graat
Martijn Graat

Industrial Design Engineering graduate student Alec Momont of the Dutch technical university TU Delft has designed an autonomously navigating mini airplane, a drone, that can fly at speeds of up to 100 km per hour, weighs 4 kilograms, and can carry a weight of 4 kilograms. It is designed to deliver medical equipment to a patient that needs surgery on the scene. The prototype in the picture and in the movie below carries a defibrillator. The drone could also transport other critical equipment or medication.

Drone to the Rescue

When emergency services receive a cardiac arrest call, they can launch the drone. It will autonomously fly to the patient, using the person’s smartphone at the scene and GPS to navigate to the correct location. Because of its speed, it can get a defibrillator to a patient within one minute within an area of 12 square kilometres.

Alec comments: ‘It is essential that the right medical care is provided within the first few minutes of a cardiac arrest,’ says Alec Momont. ‘If we can get to an emergency scene faster, we can save many lives and facilitate the recovery of many patients. This especially applies to emergencies such as heart failure, drownings, traumas and respiratory problems. It has become possible because life-saving technologies, such as a defibrillator, can now be designed small enough to be transported by a drone.’

‘Some 800,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest in the EU every year, and only 8% survive,’ Momont explains. ‘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 4 to 6 minutes. The ambulance drone can get a defibrillator to a patient inside a 12 km2 zone within one minute. This response speed increases the chance of survival following a cardiac arrest from 8% to 80%.’

‘The costs should not be an issue; I have calculated these at approximately €15,000 per drone, which is clearly a reasonable amount if you consider the number of lives that a drone could save.’

Remote Doctoring

One of the best features of the drone is the built-in webcam. It gives emergency service operators the possibility to remotely coach a bystander to use the equipment in the drone to save the life of the patient, while the person on the scene can ask questions. ‘Currently, only 20% of untrained people can successfully apply a defibrillator,’ says Alex. ‘This rate can be increased to 90% if people are provided with instructions at the scene. Moreover, the emergency operator’s presence via the drone’s loudspeaker helps to reduce the panic of the situation.’

‘There are still several obstacles in the way of the development of the ambulance drone,’ says Momont. The drone can fly autonomously. However, this is still not permitted by law. New Dutch legislation in this area is expected to be passed in 2015.

While Momont’s design is not the first attempt to solve this emergency response issue, it is lighter and faster and has a better range than the drone designed by German company Definetz, first shown at the end of 2013. Another difference is that Momont’s webcam equipped drone lands near the patient, while the Definetz drone is designed to drop a defibrillator by parachute. Please find a movie of both below.

Alec Momont’s Drone:

The Definetz Drone:

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