Future Tense

Prototype “Ambulance Drone” Could Be a Lifesaver, Literally 

It’s been well-established (and then some) that drones are ruthlessly efficient at taking lives, but given everything else they’ve shown they can do, there’s no reason to believe that unmanned aerial vehicles can’t save lives, too. To that end, an engineering student at TU Delft in Delft, the Netherlands, named Alec Momont has designed what’s being dubbed an “ambulance drone.”

Developed to combat the high mortality rate of cardiac arrest victims—“around 800,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest in the European Union every year and only 8.0 percent survive,” says Momont. The prototype drone comes equipped with a defibrillator and, according to the website, “it is possible to deliver defibrillation to any patient in a 12 km2 area within 1 minute.”

Capable of traveling at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour (hence the near-instantaneous arrival times), the ambulance drone also has on-board camera, which allows an operator to talk to the victim and provide instructions to whomever is on the ground—essentially serving as a remote paramedic. Given that brain and permant death tends to occur in the four- to six-minute range, Momont believes that the upshot of his lightning-quick response times and on-scene assistance could potentially be the increase of cardiac arrest survival rates to more than 80 percent.

Heart attacks victims are just one potential life-saving cause for Momont’s hexacopter, though. As the drone is capable of carrying up to almost nine pounds, other potential uses include getting insulin to diabetics and providing oxygen for people caught in a fire, per AFP.

Of course, Momont’s prototype is still very much, well, a prototype. In addition to the standard technological tweaks needed, it has yet to be tested on a real person, and Dutch air traffic laws—while likely to be updated in 2015—do not allow for the use of UAVs. Still though, the potential practical applications of the project are undeniably exciting, and according to Momont, his drone could be saving lives within five years.

You can watch a video that shows all that the ambulance drone do—and how the project came to fruition—above. And, with any luck, the life-saving copter will be arriving in a city near you in the not-too-distant future.

Update, November 3, 2014: This post has been updated for clarity.