Drone Beats Ambulance in Race to Deliver First Aid to Patients
Medical drones arrived 90 to 120 seconds faster than an ambulance during tests conducted with fake patients placed in Iraq’s busy city streets
In Rwanda, drones routinely swoop through the skies, delivering blood products to hospitals. It’s been a medical coup for the drone industry, covered in IEEE Spectrum’s recent feature report.
Now, a team in Iraq and Australia has developed another way to use drones in healthcare—as part of a system that detects when an elderly person has fallen, then delivers first aid.
Described in the journal Sensor, the drone system successfully reached every fake test patient in a busy city in northern Iraq, and arrived 90 to 120 seconds faster than an ambulance.
“That may not sound like a really long time, but if you weren’t breathing or your heart had stopped during that 90 seconds, it would seem like a very long time,” says co-author Javaan Chahl, a professor of sensor systems at the University of South Australia. “In that sort of emergency, the sooner a response, the better the outcome is going to be.”
Chahl imagines drone systems like this one could respond to many types of medical emergencies. The drones in this study carried a small first aid kit, but the package could instead be a portable defibrillator or medications like an EpiPen, Chahl adds. Of course, another person would need to be on hand to administer the aid, and the system currently only works outdoors.
In 2017, Chahl’s team used drones to detect vital signs in people from the air, even while the people were moving. In the current work, Chahl and engineer Ali Al-Naji collaborated with engineers at Middle Technical University in Baghdad, Iraq, led by Sadik Gharghan, who had built and tested a wearable device that monitors heart beat and acceleration, then analyzes that data with an algorithm to detect a physical fall. [READ MORE]