Network of defibrillator drones could boost heart attack survival from 8% to 80%

Graduate student Alec Momont of TU Delft has designed an unmanned, autonomously navigating mini aeroplane that can quickly deliver a defibrillator to where it is needed. A network of such drones could significantly increase the chance of survival following a cardiac arrest: from 8% to 80%.

When the emergency services receive a cardiac arrest call, this unmanned, autonomously navigating aeroplane can quickly deliver a defibrillator to the emergency scene. Via a livestream video and audio connection, the drone can also provide direct feedback to the emergency services and the persons on site can be instructed how to treat the patient. The drone finds the patient’s location via the caller’s mobile phone signal and makes its way there using GPS. The drone can fly at around 100 km/h, weighs 4 kg and can carry another 4 kg.

Some 800,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest in the EU every year, and only 8% survive,’ Momont explains. ‘The main reason for this is the relatively long response time of the emergency services (approx. 10 minutes), while brain death and fatalities occur within 4 to 6 minutes. The ambulance drone can get a defibrillator to a patient inside a 12 square kilometer zone within one minute. This response speed increases the chance of survival following a cardiac arrest from 8% to 80%.

The ambulance drone arrives at the scene in no time, on-board defibrillator, real-time instructions provided by the emergency operator.


The communications channel (a webcam) built into the drone is also very important. This allows the emergency operators to see what is going on and provide instructions to the person applying the defibrillator, who in their turn can also ask the emergency operator questions. ‘Currently, only 20% of untrained people are able to successfully apply a defibrillator,’ says Momont. ‘This rate can be increased to 90% if people are provided with instructions at the scene. Moreover, the presence of the emergency operator via the drone’s loudspeaker helps to reduce the panic of the situation.’

Cost, Regulations and Deployment hopefully within 5 years

15,000 Euros per drone ($19,500), which is clearly a reasonable amount if you consider the number of lives that could be save.

There are still a number of obstacles in the way of the development of the ambulance drone,’ says Momont. The drone can fly autonomously, however, this is still not permitted by law. New Dutch legislation in this area is expected to be passed in 2015. Moreover, the drone has not yet been tested on ‘real’ patients, and the object avoidance system for avoiding obstacles in the drone’s path needs improvement. But Momont still thinks his invention could be implemented within five years. A number of parties in the medical sector have already registered their interest in the project.

Wikipedia Automated Defibrillator

Uncorrected cardiac conditions (ventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation, asystole) rapidly lead to irreversible brain damage and death, once cardiac arrest takes place. After approximately three to five minutes in cardiac arrest,

An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a portable electronic device that automatically diagnoses the life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias of ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia in a patient, and is able to treat them through defibrillation, the application of electrical therapy which stops the arrhythmia, allowing the heart to reestablish an effective rhythm.

With simple audio and visual commands, AEDs are designed to be simple to use for the layperson, and the use of AEDs is taught in many first aid, certified first responder, and basic life support (BLS) level cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) classes.

AEDs are designed to be used by laypersons who ideally should have received AED training. However, sixth-grade students have been reported to begin defibrillation within 90 seconds, as opposed to a trained operator beginning within 67 seconds. This is in contrast to more sophisticated manual and semi-automatic defibrillators used by health professionals, which can act as a pacemaker if the heart rate is too slow (bradycardia) and perform other functions which require a skilled operator able to read electrocardiograms.

Bras with a metal underwire and piercings on the torso must be removed before using the AED on someone to avoid interference. American TV show Mythbusters found evidence that use of a defibrillator on a woman wearing an underwire bra can lead to arcing or fire but only in unusual and unlikely circumstances.

A study analyzed the effects of having AEDs immediately present during Chicago’s Heart Start program over a two-year period. Of 22 individuals 18 were in a cardiac arrhythmia which AEDs can treat (Vfib or Vtach). Of these 18, 11 survived. Of these 11 patients, 6 were treated by good Samaritan bystanders with absolutely no previous training in AED use.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, commonly known as CPR, is an emergency procedure performed in an effort to manually preserve intact brain function until further measures are taken to restore spontaneous blood circulation and breathing in a person who is in cardiac arrest. It is indicated in those who are unresponsive with no breathing or abnormal breathing, for example, agonal respirations.

CPR alone is unlikely to restart the heart. Its main purpose is to restore partial flow of oxygenated blood to the brain and heart. The objective is to delay tissue death and to extend the brief window of opportunity for a successful resuscitation without permanent brain damage.

Ultimately, only 5–10% of patients in cardiac arrest will survive after an attempted resuscitation.