The drones beat the ambulances handily, according to a report published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In all 18 cases, the drone arrived more quickly than the ambulance had.
The best medicine for a person who goes into sudden cardiac arrest is an electric shock. That jolt temporarily stops the heart, along with its rapid or erratic beat. When the heart starts itself up again, it can revert to its normal rhythm and resume pumping blood to the brain and the rest of the body.
The sooner this happens, the better. When a patient is shocked within one minute of collapse, the chance of survival is nearly 90 percent. But if it takes 10 minutes to administer a shock, the odds of survival fall below 5 percent.
If a victim is lucky, he’ll collapse in a mall, airport, school or other public venue that’s outfitted with an automated external defibrillator, or AED. These user-friendly machines can assess the cause of cardiac arrest, determine whether a shock is appropriate and deliver it if necessary.
If a victim is unlucky, he’ll have to wait for an AED to come to him. Usually, this means calling for an ambulance. But in the not-too-distant future, the ambulance could be replaced by a flying drone.
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If that sounds ridiculously futuristic, head over to the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. That’s where a team of doctors and nurses built a bright-yellow drone capable of delivering an AED to a patient in need.
The drone weighs about 12.5 pounds and uses eight rotors to achieve speeds of up to 47 mph. Once a pilot programs its route and destination, the drone uses a GPS system, autopilot software and a high-definition camera to get there. Fluorescent paint and LED lights help make it easy for people to find.
Members of the research team had previously used geographic-information-system data to estimate whether there would be any…