Drones can help save lives by delivering rescue equipment to the site of a medical emergency minutes faster than the arrival of emergency personnel. A recent trial of the technology in Ontario, Canada, demonstrated its value while expanding the capabilities to longer distances at even faster times.
Automated external defibrillators
The trial in the county of Renfrew used 4G LTE cellular connectivity to enable beyond-visual-line-of-site (BVLOS) drones to deliver automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to the scene of a cardiac arrest patient. The drones arrived more than 7 minutes before paramedic vehicles in each test flight. The trial in the county of Renfrew used 4G LTE cellular connectivity to enable BVLOS drones
The American Heart Association estimates that more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside hospitals every year; some 70% occur in homes. Drones can deliver AEDs to private, residential and rural locations where static AEDs are almost never used. They can deliver to balconies or upper levels in high rise buildings. Drones equipped with cameras can help 911 dispatchers assess a victim’s condition and support bystander CPR and AED application. Multiple studies have shown that AEDs can significantly increase chances of survival.
The trial in Ontario adds new elements to the scenario, including a greatly expanded range of flight. The LTE-connected drones can fly to locations in a 10-mile operating radius. The project is among the first to be granted permission for a BVLOS flight, which could expand the reach of emergency services. The project offers the potential to deliver life-saving AEDs to patients up to 80 miles away.
The Ontario trial demonstrates a marked improvement: A study in Sweden previously demonstrated a median response time of more than 16 minutes. The trial also suggests the possibility of obtaining permission to fly rescue drones beyond the operator line-of-sight in the United States.
The LTE-connected drones can fly to locations in a 10-mile operating radius
“Given the large area and varied terrain that the county encompasses, it is often difficult to get paramedics to patients in a timely fashion,” explained County of Renfrew Paramedic Chief Michael Nolan. “We have been successfully using drones to support our emergency responders for several years, but until now, the operators have had line-of-sight of the situation. We will now have further reach than ever.”
For the Ontario trial, InDro Robotics supplied unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Cradlepoint provided the NetCloud Service, including an on-board IoT router that enables LTE connectivity to control data and video between the vehicle and its pilot, using signals traveling over an LTE advanced cellular network. Ericsson provided 4G LTE equipment with carrier aggregation, cellular network design support, and drone research.
The drone flew over cellular to remote take-off points selected by GPS
The drone flew over cellular to remote take-off points selected by GPS and landed successfully to deliver an AED to onsite researchers, who used the device to deliver required shocks to a mannequin. The drones could share images and video with operators and employ artificial intelligence to manage collision avoidance and other key functions.
Looking ahead to additional deployment of drones to deliver AEDs and other equipment, the U.S. Fire Administration lists several implementation challenges:
- Where should drone launch sites be located? Where they can cover an entire region or where they are needed the most?
- How time-consuming and costly will drone maintenance be?
- How will recharge time or swap-out of AEDs factor into a system deployment?
- How long should the drone remain on the scene?
- Will drones be able to operate in poor weather such as icing, turbulence and extreme cold?
The County of Renfrew trial suggests new options for the technology. “What’s particularly innovative and exciting about this trial is the potential of drone-delivered AEDs to have a transformative impact on emergency care for patients suffering cardiac arrest,” said Nolan.