Drone ambulances on both sides of the Atlantic could speed up treatment for victims of motor vehicle accidents, potentially saving millions of lives worldwide.
An invention by two separate companies in the United States and the Netherlands brings new meaning to the term "air ambulance."
Whereas air ambulance services currently transport trauma patients via helicopter or fixed wing aircraft from the scene of a motor vehicle accident—or nearby hospital to the nearest trauma center—new drone ambulances that are being designed on both sides of the Atlantic could do the job potentially faster, cheaper and over longer distances.
The Austin, Texas "medidrone" by Argodesign is a space-age helicopter and ambulance in one, capable of inserting itself into the scene of an accident by landing right on the road. The prototype is powered by four propellers encased in a sort of circular wheelhouse that sit high above the body of the aircraft, which is equipped with a trauma bed.
The so-called "medidrone" could save lives by reaching trauma victims faster. Photo: Argodesign
A new application for drones
Meanwhile, engineering graduate from the Netherlands, Alex Momont, who boasts that he graduated from the Technical University of Delft IDE "with highest score possible as the fifth person ever in 50 years", has designed a similar "drone for the good."
This "flying defibrillator," as it has been called, is touted as being able to reach 60 mph, track emergency mobile calls and give instructions to heart attack and trauma victims on the ground during the so-called "golden hour" following a motor vehicle accident.
"The first minutes after an accident are critical and essential to provide the right care to prevent escalation," Momont says on his website.
"Speeding up emergency response can prevent deaths and accelerate recovery dramatically. This is notably true for heart failure, drowning, traumas and respiratory issues. Lifesaving technologies such as an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), medication, and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) aids can be designed compact enough to be carried by a drone...the Ambulance Drone [is] a new type of frame [that] was developed [as] a compact flying toolbox containing essential supplies for (lay-person) advanced life support."
The United States and Canadian militaries have been using drones in theaters of operation for more than a decade, relying on them to provide Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance in a way that traditional aircraft cannot. Drones can fly higher and longer without refuelling than traditional aircraft and cost less to operate.
Smaller drones are being used in more commercial applications by amateur and professional photographers wanting to capture aerial photography, while retailers are using the unmanned aerial vehicles to fly advertisements directly in front of office windows, for example. And as the FAA and Transport Canada relax their rules for the commercial and recreational use of drones, the potential for even further innovation is great.
Touted benefits of the Ambulance Drone
- Moment argues it will be possible to deliver defibrillation to any patient in a 12 km2 area within one minute
- At that speed, he says, survival rates can be as high as 80%
- Furthermore, he argues, a two-way, video-supported, communication channel between first responders and operators will also increase survival rates
Whether these two drone ambulances take off or not, the fact remains that 1.2 million people die in road accidents around the world every year, according to the World Health Organization. In fact, the WHO has designated 2011-2020 as The Decade of Action for Road Safety, hoping to encourage awareness and action to save upwards of five million lives.
Who knows. With the proper test flights, approvals and regulations for air worthiness—as well as flight and patient safety—these medical drones very well could save a lot of lives and revolutionize trauma medicine.
The nuviun industry network is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.