Drones are changing the way we see and experience how goods are transported from one place to another. It is also changing the way we view locations and communities. The use of drones is revolutionizing many industries. It is now being used for package delivery, military transport, and emergency medical needs. Drones are definitely shifting the way we see the world.
Drones Used for Emergency and Medical Needs
There are now several privately-held companies who use drone services for medical and emergency transport. They fill in the gaps in the market that bigger, bulkier aircraft can’t serve such as areas with difficult terrain or infrastructure issues.
Fire departments, police departments, and medical emergency services worldwide are seeing the need for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones and recognizing their benefits and how they could help their teams. Drones are now seen as a useful tool for providing better services to communities.
Drone Used for Kidney Transplant
In a flight that is being hailed as a ‘stunning achievement’, a drone delivered a donor kidney to a transplant patient for the first time ever. In the early morning of April 19th, an unmanned custom-made aircraft lifted off from a neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland and flew to the nearby University of Maryland Medical Centre to bring a kidney to surgeons for transplantation. The team of surgeons successfully transplanted said organ into critically-ill patient Trina Glipsy, a 44-year old lady who received the kidney after eight years of dialysis. The organ transplant was a success, and Trina was discharged from the hospital a few weeks later.
The pioneering 2.8-mile drone flight lasted for 10 minutes, and it happened at night. This is the result of a collaboration that lasted for three years among doctors, researchers, engineers, and aviation experts. This feat certainly won’t be the last as many people are seeing drone flight becoming more and more common in the future, especially for emergency and medical services. With the success of this first-ever flight, organ drones are expected to take off in the United States and the world. In fact, it is predicted that within the next decade, drone organ delivery would become more routine.
The team head of the proof-of-concept flight is transplant surgeon Dr. Joseph R. Scalea of the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine. According to him, organ drones have a huge potential to improve transplant access, improve quality, and decrease costs. The use of drones will also increase the likelihood that the transported organ is still viable by the time it reaches its destination. The usual way of transporting organs, which uses helicopters, airplanes, or motor vehicles, have limitations. Charter flights are too expensive and commercial flights are too slow. Drone organs can solve these limitations plus more because they can go across traffic-clogged city streets, rugged or steep terrain, flooded areas, or even icy roads. The costs of transporting organs using drones are also considerably less.
A Special Kind of Drone
The kind of drone used for the groundbreaking organ flight is not the typical one that’s flown by hobbyists and enthusiasts. This specially-designed, custom-built drone is equipped with a pair of nested boxes to hold an organ. It has eight rotors and it carries state-of-the-art gear used for communications. It holds a unique apparatus that measures and maintains temperature, altitude, barometric pressure, location, and vibration. This ensures that the kidney will be in the best possible condition during the flight. In order to make sure that it stays aloft despite some component failure, it also carries backup batteries and powertrains. In case of a major malfunction, the drone is also equipped with a parachute so that it can land safely.
According to Matthew Scassero, director of the university’s unmanned aerial vehicle test site, it was a very challenging task because they had to comply with FAA regulations but create a completely new UAV system. It should be able to carry the extra weight of the organ, safety systems, communications systems, and cameras and organ tracking and make it fly over a densely populated region. The team conducted several tests, initially transporting blood tubes and saline to test the drone’s viability.
This achievement is a small but significant step in the use of drones. Since organs can only survive for a few hours outside the human body, timing is very crucial. With the success of this first organ transport, we can now bring organs faster and safer where they are needed the most.
Drones Used for Medical and Emergency Services
The use of drones in medical services is not new. In Rwanda and other African nations, unmanned aerial vehicles or drones are being used to transport medical supplies. Drones are also currently being used for the same purpose in Vanuatu, a Pacific island nation. There is no doubt about it – drones are revolutionizing medical and emergency services. Drones are seen to be an advantage because they are smaller, more agile, and better controlled. They are able to replace more costly operations equipment such as helicopters.
Drones can be used for surveillance, law enforcement, and search and rescue. Fire departments can outfit UAS with thermal imaging cameras to provide exact information, as it allows firefighters to see through the smoke and water spray more accurately. Police departments use drones for search and rescue, crime scene documentation, and traffic monitoring. Drones are effective for surveillance purposes because they are able to recognize important details such as license plates from at least 50 meters long. You can use drones to locate people missing in coastlines and mountain ranges. Recently, fire crews in Lincolnshire, England were able to locate and rescue two young boys stuck on top of a roof using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
For planning purposes, drones reduce the need to used manned helicopters and aids in zone and infrastructure assessment. They can also be used for reconnaissance mapping, logistics, and operational support.
Many drone companies are now experimenting on the use of drone technology to better serve the medical and emergency services sector. They are well aware of what these heroes are up against, and they are finding ways to address those challenges.
As research and testing grow, drone technology is changing rapidly. There are many significant improvements such as higher quality sensors, greater resilience, increased flight duration, and better weather resistance.
How Do Emergency Responders Use Drones?
Search and Rescue Missions
Using drones will result in faster search and rescue missions. Drones will be able to examine the ground from above using high-definition video and thermal imaging. This means that it will be quicker to locate and rescue a missing person. Aside from making timely rescues, using drones can also support police teams in conducting safer searches for criminals on the lam.
Crime Prevention and Simulation
Drones are used by police departments for crime prevention. In Ensenada, Mexico, 500 arrests were made when they purchased a single drone that patrols a particular area. The city also experienced a 30% decrease in home robberies. The drone makes 25 trips per day, covering areas with the most number of emergency calls.
Drones are also utilized in the investigation of crime and accident scenes. 3D simulations of actual crime and accident scenes are created, and drones are deployed to help investigators see things from a different perspective, especially from inaccessible angles.
Disaster Readiness and Response
Drones are also used to help teams during the aftermath of natural disasters. Their rapid surveying ability is a big help in determining the impact that hurricanes and typhoons leave on a location. Drones can perform crucial tasks such as evaluating the damage, surveying the extent of the disaster, and identifying where and how to distribute relief and much-needed resources. They can also be used to track forest fires and survey earthquake damages.
Drones are also very useful in pre-emptive 3D mapping. They can be used in crowded areas so first responders will have crucial information before even arriving on the scene. This makes their work safer and faster.
Benefits of Using Drone Technology in Emergency Situations
An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can be sent into dangerous places or locations that are difficult to access in person. This includes war zones or hostage situations. They can be deployed in risky situations. Emergency teams can also use drones as a surveillance tool so that they can get a better view of the situation and get all the information required before sending actual persons.
Drones are safe and practical to use because they can hover over or near an incident site for a prolonged period of time. It also covers both small and large areas, and they are relatively quick and easy to deploy.
Another benefit of using drone technology is its ability to gather data and intelligence. It can be used to collect evidence used to analyze the scene of an accident. Traditional emergency teams spend a considerable amount of time documenting the details of an accident. Thus, it takes a lot of time for the scene to be cleared up. However, with the use of technology onboard a drone, this can be done much quicker. When debris from an accident gets cleared away more quickly, this enables teams to save time, money, and potentially, lives. UAVs can also help collect evidence and monitor events from a distance.
Drones are capable of being deployed directly to the site and it monitors in real-time, giving teams accurate data which would allow them to make faster and wiser decisions. In highly-urbanized, traffic areas and sprawling commercial estates, drones are effective for decision makers to gain greater situational awareness. It helps reduce risks and keeps costs low without compromising the safety of human lives.
Obstacles in Using Drone Technology
Before drones can be mainstreamed, many obstacles need to be overcome. Currently, drones compete in the already-busy airspace filled with airplanes and helicopters. Federal regulations also forbid flights that are beyond the operator’s line of flight. This regulation is in place to avoid a serious accident.
Currently, drones face a lot of challenges. It needs to be more reliable and it needs a more dependable system of communication. It should also be able to resist hacking. Experts foresee that the drones of the future should be faster, should have greater range, and bigger payload capacity. Technologies that will allow drones to fly at least 200 miles per hour and carrying payloads between 50-100 pounds do not exist yet. However, they are not entirely impossible to make. Another limitation of drones is that they cannot be used in extreme weather conditions.
The Future of Drones
It started with a kidney transplant, but it will not end there. We are just recently beginning to see the full potential of drones in the real world. The possibilities in what can be done with drone technology, particularly in emergency and medical services, are endless. As new opportunities present themselves, the technology will surely follow.
Fire departments can combine drone data from the Weather Channel to produce predictive analytics on which direction a wildfire might go. In fact, simultaneous tests and brainstorming activities are now currently being held by the American Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the United Kingdom’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) to create ways for drones to assist emergency services when battling wildfires. In the future, UAS can also be dispatched to a reported crime scene and provide real-time video, enabling officers to pinpoint specifically where the subject is located.
Emergency management teams should not only strive to improve drone technology but should also build legal and operational strategies. On their part, the FAA is also working to update its UAS policy to respond to the changing times. As regulations take shape, it will pave the way for more innovative public applications.
It is important to point out that the use of drones doesn’t mean that fewer people will be needed in emergency services. It only means that the way that emergency teams are utilized will be altered. For one thing, there will be less tedious data collection and taking of photos, there will be fewer people sent into perilous situations, and it will be easier to analyze gathered information. Veteran firefighter Rob Schield has gone on record saying that drones that are equipped with thermal imaging are one of the best equipment that a community can invest in.
Technological advances in the field of health and sciences will also make it possible to print 3D organs. This groundbreaking science has a long-term goal of bioprinting fully-functioning organs. Researchers are giving it a timeline of two decades. Scientists think that this is possible with continued innovations in both materials and the printing method. This will result in reduced waiting time for patients waiting for organ donors, which currently has an average duration of 3 years. Imagine a world where 3D printed, fully-functioning organs are airlifted using UAVs.
The benefits of using drones in the field of emergency and medical services, especially with rapidly advancing technology, are vast. It will just be a question of how systematic and effective they will be used. The emergency response teams should also have the understanding and skills to effectively deploy them.