Most serious medical emergencies require trained paramedics to come to the assistance of a stricken person, but sudden cardiac arrest can often be treated by a bystander using an automated external defibrillator (AED). While AEDs are becoming commonplace in airports, sporting venues, and other places that are visited by large numbers of people, most times when these devices are needed they are brought by ambulance. Too often, though, it arrives too late and with terrible consequences.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden wanted to evaluate whether high tech drones can deliver AEDs faster than traditional ambulances, opening up the possibility that many more people will be saved thanks to the flying gadgets.

The team, with the assistance of Swedish company FlyPulse AB, built an eight-rotor drone that can get up to a cruising speed of 47 miles per hour (75 km/h) and carry the FRED easyport, a small commercial AED made by Schiller AG out of Switzerland. It can fly completely autonomously from takeoff to landing once the destination coordinates are provided and a flight plan is confirmed by a human operator.

The researchers then compiled the locations and time of day information of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests that happened within a six mile (ten kilometer) range of a chosen fire station within an eight year period. They then simulated responses to these locations and times of day by the drone, and compared those times to the same journeys taken by the ambulances when they responded to the actual cardiac arrests in the past.

The findings were rather remarkable. The medial flight distance was two miles (3.2 km) and the drone on average went from dispatch to landing in about five minutes. The records kept by the ambulance service showed that its average response times to the same locations were on average 21 minutes. Of course an ambulance’s response time can be affected by local conditions, such as traffic, distance to destination, and the quality of roads, yet this study demonstrates that certainly in a lot of cases the drone will be significantly faster.

Study in JAMATime to Delivery of an Automated External Defibrillator Using a Drone for Simulated Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrests vs Emergency Medical Services…

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Image credits: Top: karolinska Institutet. Side: JAMA