Could drones make better EMTs than humans?
Engineer Alec Momont works at the Technical University of Delft, one of the world’s leading drone research hubs in the Netherlands. This past year he started investigating whether a drone might make it to a heart attack patient faster than an ambulance.
By working with ambulance services in Amsterdam, Momont figured out that the average response time to a cardiac arrest call is roughly 10 minutes. His ambulance drone prototype, which comes with a DIY defibrillator and a telemedicine component, aims to get there in six.
“In central cities we’re installing defibrillators in train stations, but not many people manage to use them,” Momont says. “As our roads get busier and busier, the current system that we have will not improve that much.”
Momont sees ambulance drones being incorporated into Europe’s current 112 system—the equivalent of a 911 responder network. In theory, someone witnessing a heart attack would call 112, at which point responders would then send out a drone. Through two-way video connected to the drone, a trained medic would walk someone close to the heart attack patient through the steps of using the defibrillator attached to the nearly nine-pound flying object. Ideally, rural areas that have few defibrillators installed in public places might benefit from this technology the most.
Still, Momont acknowledges that drone technology hasn’t quite progressed to the point where the banana-colored tricopters could be fully automated. Right now, he’s testing them using remote pilots. He’s also keeping a close eye on how the Federal Aviation Administration goes about regulating drone use in the United States. “That will affect how it is in the Netherlands,” Momont says. “It usually follows what the FAA is doing.”