A USA Today investigation a few years ago found that, of the 250,000 fatal cardiac arrests that occur outside of U.S. hospitals every year, up to 76,000 cases were treatable. That is, the patients would have survived if the ambulance had got there in time. A quick zap with a defibrillator was all that was needed, but many cities could not promise a response within six minutes—the standard survival window.
The normal reaction to this might be: invest in a better ambulance fleet, more call centers, and so on. But Stefen Riegebauer, a graduate student from Austria, has a different, more futuristic, idea: to build a first aid drone network that gets people and equipment to the scene more quickly.
His idea works like this: You create an app that anyone trained in first aid signs up to, creating a mobile community. You then station defibrillator-equipped drones on top of tall buildings across the city, linked by sensors. When someone needs help, they, or someone nearby, sends a request. The nearest first-aider accepts the task, and rushes to the site, and the unmanned vehicle sweeps from the sky, delivering the kit where it’s needed. No more ambulances battling the traffic. No more sirens blaring away waking up the kids. Fewer deaths from tardy responders.
Simple, no? Well, maybe not. But Riegebauer has built a non-working prototype, his visualizations are pretty funky, and he says the drone technology already exists. A team at MIT recently unveiled an autonomous UVV capable of flying at 22 mph in tight spaces; Riegebauer says it would be ideal.
"Autonomous systems are where we are heading," says Riegebauer. 'Why shouldn’t we use them for emergencies, if it can help you?"
His idea has received the backing of the James Dyson Award, reaching the last-15 stage. But Riegebauer stresses that he doesn’t see drones replacing ambulances and staff completely. They would be employed only if they were closer and likely to get to the scene faster.