More than 350,000 Americans suffered cardiac arrests this past year, and only 12% survived. The reason? First responders with their defibrillators often don’t make it to the scene on time. So, as his master’s degree project, Alec Momont proposed a solution: medical drones.
The engineering grad student of Delft University of Technology hopes to iron out the technical and legal issues of his ambulatory drones. In addition to grabbing the attention of the Dutch emergency services and the Dutch Heart Foundation, Momont’s idea has expanded to different corners of the world already saving countless of lives.
The Race to Medical Drones
Around the World
It’s been a few years since the world has been introduced to medical drones. They even saw some action in the past few natural disasters such as the earthquakes that hit Haiti and Nepal. But it is only recently that medical drones are getting called to do more than just provide relief to disaster victims. Rwanda recently adopted medical drones to deliver medical supplies to hospitals. The average drone delivery takes about 15 minutes, a vast improvement from the average 4-hour delivery hospitals are used to. Initially, a pilot program administered by Zipline, Rwanda’s medical drone program is set to expand to almost half of the country’s hospitals.
U.S Adopts Medical Drones
Zipline’s work in Rwanda has not gone unnoticed. With the ok from the American government, Zipline is partnering with Ellumen, ASD Healthcare, and Bloodworks Northwest to administer the testing of drones in the U.S. So far, their drones are expected to make deliveries to Smith Island, Maryland, San Juan Islands, and Washington.
Although other countries are using medical drones successfully, its implementation in the U.S. is not in the immediate future. Currently being tested in rural areas because of strict restrictions from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Medical drones can only be flown at an altitude below 400 feet and within the operator’s line of sight. Even when the FAA updates the rule on drones, speculated to happen sometime next year, it’ll be open for public comment which will set back its medical use a few years.
With the use of telemedical drones, the Health Integrated Rescue Operations (HiRO) Project is stepping it up in the drone game. Delivering medical supplies is one thing, but to give non-medical professionals a chance to use them in life-threatening situations is another. Google Glass is provided in HiRO’s medical emergency kits, giving the users a chance to communicate with first responders via video conference. The project aims to not replace ambulances but to buy the EMS critical time.