Researchers at the University of Toronto are imagining a world where drones can help paramedics save lives.
Although still in its preliminary stages, they’ve created a hypothetical network of drones across Ontario that would deliver life-saving defibrillators to those in cardiac arrest. “The benefits could be huge,” said U of T researcher Timothy Chan (pictured), associate professor of industrial engineering and director of the Centre for Healthcare Engineering. The paradox of cardiac arrest is that interventions in this field are focused on public access to AED’s, although 80 percent of cardiac arrest occurs in private residences.
He also found that many life-saving defibrillators are inaccessible to the public during off-hours and evenings, when most incidents of cardiac arrest occur.
Inspired by a similar program he saw in Europe, Chan and his team began looking at cardiac arrest data across eight large geographic regions from Toronto to Muskoka.
The team says they’d need 100 drones located at 80 bases across those 10,000 square kilometres to beat ambulances to a victim of cardiac arrest 90 per cent of the time.
It’s a fact that someone in Canada gets cardiac arrest every 12 minutes, said Chan, and that their chance of survival decreases by 10 per cent per minute.
“This is a problem where literally seconds count,” he said, “and getting that defibrillator to someone who can (use it) ASAP is the difference between life and death.”
Chan doesn’t think it’s realistic to put an AED in every other house, which is why “this technology makes so much sense.”
“And it’s not that out there,” he said.
Indeed, drones are already being used in delivering medical aid to remote locations in developing countries. Agricultural drones are giving farmers new tools to reduce crop damage. And, of course, Amazon and FedEx are pushing regulators to allow for drone-delivered packages.
Chan thinks AED delivery is only a matter of time. “If (the public is) already interested in the delivery of commercial goods, why not life saving goods?”
But Chan and his team – which consists of PhD candidate Justin Boutilier, assistant professor Angela Schoellig and researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital’s Rescu program – are still looking for funding to bring the research “to the next level.”
The team is also hoping to link up with existing fire and rescue agencies, to find ways that the operation of the AED-delivery drones could be integrated with existing 911 response teams.
Boutilier said Muskoka would be the “ideal” place for a test pilot run of the project, as data suggests the region has the longest rate of response to a cardiac arrest call but also the highest participation rate of bystanders giving CPR.
“A few hypotheticals remain as well,” Chan said. How the defibrillators would be recharged and maintained and how they would handle certain weather conditions are still up in the air.
But the AED itself is easy to use, he added. “They are the size of a laptop and simple to operate… In the U.S., (a study found that) sixth-grade students could work them as quickly as trained paramedics.”
The last hurdle to making the drone defibrillator-delivery system a reality is Transport Canada regulations.
Under current rules, drone users must follow Canadian Aviation Regulations that stipulate unmanned air vehicles must be in sight of their operators at all times and respect the criminal code, provincial Trespass Acts as well as municipal law.
But Chan isn’t worried about whether or not the idea will take off.
“Regulations are being relaxed to encourage this kind of innovation,” he said. “My guess would be (AED drone delivery) is five to 10 years away.”
Source: U of T News