Drones are everywhere in the news. Beside mild annoyances to your neighbors to their flat-out idiotic use near airports, drones could have an important place in our society. The future of drones and ambulances should come together quickly as technology and the industry matures.
We’ve covered a few drones this year, and even those that will eventually take one or more people in the air to leapfrog traffic jams. But another more important role drones could play would be to act as ambulances bypassing traffic jams where injured people can linger and eventually pass away stuck bumper to bumper.
So far, the use of ambulances means clearing a path to the accident and then another path to the nearest hospital. In a case of serious emergency, or say a famous person is in an accident, a helicopter is rushed to the emergency where enough room has been made to land it. It then takes off and lands at a hospital with a helipad.
When combining a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle’s capacity to take off and land practically anywhere, water included, a drone VTOL could quickly get to the scene of an emergency and as quickly move any injured people to hospitals. This is where drone-like VTOLs are showing the greatest potential, that of saving human lives.
Drones and The US Bureaucratic Aviation Regulatory Framework
The technology available today is impressive considering what was available only two decades ago. The problem of making it a living reality finds resistance with bureaucracy and a particularly convoluted mobility system we rely on. In other words, having drones fly in and out of accidents sites, whether they are autonomous or manned aircrafts, still means coordinating flight paths and avoiding collisions.
Perhaps one the rare things this current Administration passed not too long ago is an executive order giving local governments more leeway to conduct unmanned drone tests, according to TechCrunch. This essentially means that local governments and communities can freely work with the mobility industry to facilitate drone paths. It also means they can now apply for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) waivers to the existing rules.
One company already working on emergency drones is Zipline. With a mission is to deliver urgent medical products to people in difficult to reach and remote places, Zipline is using Africa as a test drive to its drone life-saving mission. Although Zipline doesn’t use a VTOL, their plane-like drone is already delivering life-saving blood in areas most needed.
The way Zipline handles emergencies is by ordering blood delivery via a text message, which health workers can pack in minutes for Zipline to immediately fly within minutes at 110 km/h (about 70 MPH). The product arrives faster than any other mode of transportation and in the case of autonomous flight means no pilot is required, thus removing time and the expenses of having pilots prepped and ready.
OK, we can see how that might not always be the best scenario for accidents when a paramedic is needed for the transport of an injured person. A pilot could also handle other flight tasks and onboard emergencies in case of glitches.
Ambulance Drones Saving Lives
Ambulance drones need to be VTOLs. They need to take off and land anywhere quickly and efficiently. They also need to hover in place, much as a helicopter does when rescuing rock climbers.
Although drones have been a Christmas list item for the past few years, we’re happy seeing them take on more noble tasks after decades of military use and refinement. Pretty soon, we’ll see that technology put to good use saving human lives.
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