Can Drones Deliver Defibrillators Faster Than We Can Find Them In An Emergency?

Researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) and NC State have conducted a feasibility study of automatic external defibrillator (AED) delivery via drone to test whether drones could deliver the life-saving devices faster than bystanders could locate one from a nearby building.

“For every minute that goes by without defibrillation, the chance of survival for a heart attack victim goes down 10%,” said Wayne Rosamond, a professor of epidemiology at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. “The real goal is to get defibrillated within five minutes.”

After conducting drone testing on campus, the researchers began testing the feasibility of using drones to deliver defibrillators in the Chapel Hill area. The team simulated heart attacks and recorded the response times as one person searched for a defibrillator on foot and another called for the drone delivery. They conducted 36 test flights, with a variety of obstacles for the drone to navigate to simulate real-world environments. A majority of the time, the drones arrived to the victim with an AED first.

“The drone is performing very well,” Rosamond said. “It arrives safely at the scene with an AED almost every time within five minutes. When asked to locate and retrieve a defibrillator their own, participants in the study often take much longer than that.”

The research team was made up of partnerships between the schools of public health and nursing at Carolina and NC State’s aerospace engineering and transportation experts.

“We’ve combined expertise in drone technology with our interest in cardiovascular epidemiology. We’ve been able to put two very different fields of research together to come up with a really exciting project,” Rosamond said. “The team has really been energized by bringing these different areas of expertise together around an important public health problem.”

The study was funded by a North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute / North Carolina State University Collaborative Translational Research pilot grant award.