Researchers at Mississippi’s William Carey University in Mississippi are studying how disaster drones could carry medical kits to victims of accidents before an ambulance arrives. Bystanders could use the kits to help people, or first responders on the scene could use them when multiple victims are injured. Researchers at Hinds Community College, also in Mississippi, built the “disaster drones,” last year, intended to deliver medicine to hard-to-reach locations.
Italo Subbarao, senior associate dean at William Carey University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, said that the program has developed various prototypes. Subbarao is involved in the university’s telemedicine drone research project.
Discussing the many potential applications of the technology, Subbarao said,
“We have a kit that is a general medical emergency kit that we would probably fly to a farmer’s home…for a rural type of general medical emergency. We’ve got kits that are designed to go into the wilderness so that if you’re stung by a bee or you’ve got a snake bite, things of that nature, we can provide assistance in that moment. Most recently, we demonstrated our trauma kits.”
These kits could be used in a mass casualty event like a terror attack or a train crash, or when someone needs critical care but cannot be reached quickly. Subbaraon added, “We look at this as a piece of the puzzle, an important piece of the puzzle, that can connect with the local emergency management system.” Subbarao and his colleagues are investigating how drones could help save lives and possibly even beat an ambulance to a medical emergency scene.
The researchers conducted 18 consecutive flights with the drone, with an average flight distance of 3.2 kilometers, or about 2 miles. They compared the dispatch and travel time of the drone with the dispatch and travel time of emergency medical services. The researchers found that the drone arrived more quickly than EMS in all cases, with an average reduction in response time of about 16 minutes, and that no adverse events or technical problems occurred during any of the drone flights.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations may be one of the biggest obstacles the project faces. For example, waivers are required to fly higher than 400 feet or between sunset and sunrise — both of which limit the use case for drones in fast response situations. Subbarao has applied for fast-track approval from the FAA. If and when the project receives approval, Subbarao hopes to launch their med kit delivery program in late 2018. Another challenge is making drones part of the emergency response system. Despite these challenges, Subbarao believes drones can empower physicians to be “mobile and portable,” providing the “ultimate backup” in evacuation scenarios ranging from natural disasters to or a major transit accident. Often, in such cases, critical minutes pass as victims must wait for an ambulance to arrive. high-tech drones could shorten that waiting time significantly.