Nearly a million Europeans suffer from a cardiac arrest each year, and only 8% will survive. Once the heart stops beating, it takes about 4-6 minutes for the brain to die. Sadly, the average response time for ambulances is about 10 minutes. Alec Momont, a graduate student at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), has designed a drone that provides a professional response within a single minute. This could potentially increase the cardiac arrest survival rate to an astonishing 80%.
“It is essential that the right medical care is provided within the first few minutes of a cardiac arrest,” Momont said in a press release. “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, and it has become possible because life-saving technologies, such as a defibrillator, can now be designed small enough to be transported by a drone.”
The ambulance drone prototype reaches top speeds of 100 km/h, reaching patients within 12 square kilometers (7.4 square miles) within one minute. The drone is able to fly autonomously, locating the destination via GPS coordinates. It has a carbon composite body and weighs 4 kg (8.8 lbs), with the capacity to carry an additional 4 kg payload. There is a defibrillator built right in, and the emergency operator who took the phone call can provide instructions in order to use it properly. The drone has the added benefit of an on-board live cam and audio connection, allowing the operator to actually observe the scene and ensure that the defibrillator pads have been applied correctly.
Though defibrillators are commonly available in public areas in case of emergency, 4 out of 5 cardiac arrests occur at home where the equipment likely isn’t available. Additionally, the amount of people properly trained in administering CPR or using a defibrillator is not very high. Even those who have been trained may become unnerved when faced with a real life emergency.
“Currently, only 20% of untrained people are able to successfully apply a defibrillator,” Momont continued. “This rate can be increased to 90% 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.”
There are some steps that need to be taken before these devices can be used in a real emergency. Though the drone is able to fly autonomously, it needs to improve its ability to avoid obstacles. Drones are currently not legally permitted to fly autonomously in the Netherlands, though legislation is predicted to change in the coming year.
Each unit is expected to cost €15,000 ($24,000), and Momont has stated that many medical professionals have already shown interest in the system. He predicts they could be used in as little as five years.
[All images via TU Delft]