Drone defibrillator ready to take off and save lives
drone Defibrillator drone in sweden study

Drone defibrillator ready to take off and save lives

The prospect of any drone delivery network is complicated by privacy concerns and a lack of infrastructure. But when lives are on the line, those details take a back seat. Getting from A to B – and fast – is what drones do best. Armed with a defibrillator, those precious seconds saved could be the difference between life and death. 

That’s the conclusion of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which followed simulated uses of a drone defibrillator in Sweden.

Each year, out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen to 55 out of every 100,000 people in the United States. Survival rates are so low (between 8 and 10 percent) because, more often than not, there is no equipment on hand and no qualified doctor to provide CPR. Every second counts; the longer it takes for a defibrillator to reach the patient, the less likely it is that they will survive.

In 2014, a team from Holland’s TU Delft University developed a drone for defibrillation. Now there’s concrete evidence to suggest that the rapid response times provided by these aerial ambulances could save lives.

Read more: Fujitsu and DHL to apply IoT to emergency services

Drone defibrillator 17 minutes faster than standard response times

According to the study, each minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation lowers the chance of a patient’s survival by 10 percent. With that in mind, the team from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden sought to test the potential of drones and compare their response times to conventional emergency services.

The technology is not yet at the stage where it can be tested in real-life scenarios. So the team attached a defibrillator to a drone and simulated the events of previous cardiac arrest emergency situations from the past eight years. After setting up at a fire station in Norrtälje, Stockholm, the drone was dispatched to locations in the area where actual cardiac arrests had taken place.

The results were clear. Across 18 flights, the average time from dispatch to arrival was 5 minutes 21 seconds. Records showed that emergency services responding to the same incidents from the same starting point over the years took on average 22 minutes to reach the destination.

“If we can decrease the time in cardiac arrest from collapse to defibrillation by a few minutes, hundreds of lives would be saved each year,” says study lead Jacob Hollenberg.

The timings measured in the study show how quickly a defibrillator drone can reach an emergency location. They do not account for the time needed for a person on the ground – presumably not a medical professional – to use the defibrillator on the patient. Having said that, the 17 minutes between ambulance and drone response times is a sizable enough gap to minimize that as a factor.

The Karolinska Institute team is now set to trial the technology alongside emergency services to see whether outcomes are improved. They expect to be conducting these by next year.

Read more: NASA tests drone traffic control system across the US

Regulations will bend to save lives

The results of this study show that drone technology has the potential to transform emergency response times in the case of cardiac arrests. And unlike with pizza or parcel delivery, it’s difficult to envisage any public backlash over the use of drones as flying defibrillators.

Despite effectively banning camera drones on privacy grounds, Sweden’s aviation authority granted the Karolinska Institute permission to fly its drones beyond the pilot’s line of sight as part of the tests.

Could it be that the proof of concept for drone delivery is borne of genuine necessity, not a need for pizza on demand?

Read more: IBM patents drone for aerial pass-the-parcel