'Ambulance drone' prototype is unveiled that could help save heart attack victims

Belgian engineering graduate Alec Momont shows his design of an ambulance drone with a built-in defibrillator in Delft on Oct 28, 2014. The small aircraft, designed by Momont, weighs some 4kg and can fly at a speed of 100kmh, quickly delivering
Belgian engineering graduate Alec Momont shows his design of an ambulance drone with a built-in defibrillator in Delft on Oct 28, 2014. The small aircraft, designed by Momont, weighs some 4kg and can fly at a speed of 100kmh, quickly delivering a defibrillator to patients who have suffered a heart attack. -- PHOTO: AFP

THE HAGUE (AFP) - A Dutch-based student on Tuesday unveiled a prototype of an "ambulance drone", a flying defibrillator able to reach heart attack victims within precious life-saving minutes.

Developed by Belgian engineering graduate Alec Momont, it can fly at speeds of up to 100kmh.

"Around 800,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest in the European Union every year and only 8 per cent survive," Momont, 23, said at the TU Delft University.

"The main reason for this is the relatively long response time of emergency services of around 10 minutes, while brain death and fatalities occur with four to six minutes," he said in a statement.

"The ambulance drone can get a defibrillator to a patient within a 12 sq km zone within a minute, raising the chance of survival from 8 per cent to 80 per cent."

Painted in emergency services yellow and driven by six propellers, the drone can carry a 4kg load - in this case a defibrillator.

It tracks emergency mobile calls and uses GPS to navigate.

Once at the scene, an operator, like a paramedic, can watch, talk and instruct those helping the victim by using an on-board camera connected to a control room via a livestream webcam.

The prototype has already attracted the interest of emergency services including that of Amsterdam, the Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad said.

The Dutch Heart Foundation also applauded the idea, the newspaper added.

Momont, however, wants his drone to become a "flying medical toolbox" able to carry an oxygen mask to a person trapped in a fire or an insulin injection to a diabetes sufferer.

However, the drone is still in its infancy as far as developing its steering mechanism and legal issues regarding its use are concerned, Momont said.

He said he hopes to have an operational emergency drone network across the Netherlands in five years.

The drone is expected to cost around €15,000 (S$24,000) each.

"I hope it will save hundreds of lives in the next five years," Momont said.