In Germany, about 75,000 people experience sudden cardiac arrest every year – and only 11% survive. This survival rate is linked directly to an ambulance’s response time and early defibrillation. But with ambulances taking nine to 15 minutes on average to reach a rural area, and more remote areas being completely inaccessible by road, a team of students decided to come up with a means of faster intervention. Enter, a remote-controlled rescue drone with a defibrillator on board.
Students at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have built a fixed-wing drone that can achieve flight speeds of over 74 mph to reach even those areas in four to five minutes that are difficult or even impossible to access through the local road infrastructure.
Measuring nearly 2 meters long with a wingspan of 3 meters, the aircraft goes into hover mode when it reaches the emergency coordinates and lowers the defibrillator with a winch to the ground.
In the meantime, a smartphone-based alerting system works in the background to notify a person(s) with medical background nearest to the emergency scene. The defibrillator is then rapidly deployed by the rescue chain, increasing the survival chances of the heart-attack patient considerably.
With the help of the Bavarian Red Cross and a simulated emergency, the team was able to demonstrate the technical capabilities of the prototype drone with a test flight in Ottobrunn last week.
As the next step, the team wants to apply for an operating license from the German and EU aviation safety authorities in early 2022. In the final project phase, hundreds of these drones could be stationed in rural areas and controlled remotely as a meaningful addition to existing rescue networks.
Now, drones responding to medical emergencies is not a novel concept. Recently, drones flew automated external defibrillators to heart attack victims in Sweden as well. But a team of creative young scientists coming together from 30 different countries and nine faculties – reaching across engineering and informatics, through to medicine and economics – to deliver a successful prototype is worthy of both praise and recognition.
As TUM president, Prof. Thomas F. Hofmann, sums up:
I’m always delighted to see how our students use their free time to get together across the disciplines and explore technologies that can be used to help people. They make the University a space for experimentation, for trying out and developing new things, gaining useful experience that will be invaluable to them later on in their careers.
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