Delivery drones carrying medical supplies could very well be the next big idea to saving lives. Since many people have negative impressions of drones, these medical UAVs may just their change minds. A group from Delft University of Technology is working on what they are calling their Ambulance Drone. It is a delivery drone that
Delivery drones carrying medical supplies could very well be the next big idea to saving lives. Since many people have negative impressions of drones, these medical UAVs may just their change minds.
A group from Delft University of Technology is working on what they are calling their Ambulance Drone. It is a delivery drone that is capable of acting as an emergency medical unit that comes with a built-in defibrillator and other medical tools. The group has hopes that the drone will be able to serve as an emergency unit capable of arriving at a scene in less than one minute, thereby saving more lives than emergency services could otherwise do. Their ambulance drone travels over 100 km/h and can fold up to act as a toolbox for easy handling. You can view a demonstration of their video below.
Feasibility of the Ambulance Drone
Ideas like the ambulance drone are still very new and therefore require more research and development before we will see anything like that in the video. But how feasible is this innovation, and how soon can we see emergency drone units saving lives? Here are some of the things that I believe to be the biggest hurdles these drones may face before they are put into development.
- Appropriate Diagnosis: This will most likely be the biggest problem the drone will face before it is developed. Appropriate diagnosis requires a trained professional. You don’t want to misdiagnosis the patient and then end up doing more harm. A startup company named Matternet, is currently conducting field trials to determine how to deliver emergency supplies in emergency situations in developing countries. So far they have had some success with using the drones in Haiti.
- Workforce Needed for this New Emergency System: Mission coordinators, those who will be controlling the drones, will need to be trained to ensure the drone reaches its destination without being hampered by weather conditions, airspace regulations, or flight path conflicts. Additional trained medical professionals may be required to direct someone on the scene by a watching through an onboard camera built into the drone.
- Airspace Infrastructure: Airspace is separated into different classes. Depending on which class of airspace you are in, you need to follow certain FAA regulations when flying your aircraft. If you have flown a UAV as a hobbyist, you may be aware that you are supposed to fly in what is known as class G airspace. This airspace is not controlled by the FAA and so your aircraft does not need clearance to enter this airspace from ATC (Air Traffic Control). However, even though you are not under controlled airspace, you are still under FAA jurisdiction and so there are certain rules by which you must abide. For example, you need to have a visual of your aircraft at all times. The ambulance drone will not be the only drone that will start filling the once seemingly empty G class airspace, and so regulations will need to be placed to prevent collisions. We don’t want Amazon drones crashing into ambulance drones right above our heads. However, the drone may still find its niche within rural areas. It may even be that the G class airspace will have to start being a controlled airspace. In the case, it’s up to the FAA to make the call.
- Technological Sophistication: Considering these delivery drones will need to carry a payload of medical supplies, the empty weight by design will need to increase and this of course increases the manufacturing cost of the aircraft. Additionally, because these aircraft may be flying over residential areas through remote connections, they will need to be very robust in order to decrease the chances of things like engine failure. Expensive, reliable radio receivers will also be required to ensure steady communication with the drone when it is out of range.
- Equipment Theft Prevention: The expensive equipment needed to make these ambulance drones work will also increase their costs and so, they may be a big target for theft. There will definitely need to be some heavy laws passed to deter people from trying to tamper with the drones. Measures such as built in tracking devices to help prevent such theft would also help.
In Richard Feynman’s book The Meaning of it All, he writes how a man from a Buddhist temple gives him some advice regarding science, saying “To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven. The same key opens the gates of hell.” Technology can be a blessing or a curse depending on how we use it. Ambulance drones will be no different.
Image via: YouTube