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Defibrillator-carrying drones could save lives, research suggests

Drones were 16 minutes faster than the emergency services, increasing the chance of survival for people who suffer cardiac arrest, study shows

The speed of the drones could save lives, as for every minute that passes between cardiac arrest and CPR or defibrillation the chance of survival drops by 10%. Photograph: Centre for Resuscitation Science, Karolinska Institute

Drones are already employed for anything from military to recreational use, from oil exploration to filmmaking, but they could also help save the lives of people who have suffered a cardiac arrest, research suggests.

A simulated study found that drones carrying a defibrillator, which could be used by a member of the public, arrived 16 minutes quicker than the emergency services on average, saving precious time.

Jacob Hollenberg, director of the centre for resuscitation science at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, who led the study, told the Guardian: “Cardiac arrest is one of the major killers in the western world. Every minute is crucial; I would say every second is crucial.

“Every minute that passes from collapse to [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] or defibrillation, the chances of survival goes down by 10%. That’s why survival after 10 to 12min is basically zero. There’s a huge difference in using the defibrillator within the first few minutes. Even if you improve the timing of the ambulances in these type of situations, it’s too late - only one in 10 victims survive”.

The 5.7kg (12.5lb) drone was developed by the Swedish Transportation Agency to carry a 763g (1.6lb) automated external defibrillator (AED). The eight-rotor unmanned aerial drone, with a maximum cruising speed of 75km/h (47mph), was housed at a fire station north of Stockholm.

Over a 72-hour period in October last year, it was dispatched 18 times by two licensed pilots using GPS coordinates to out-of-sight locations where cardiac arrests within a 10km radius from the fire station had occurred between 2006 and 2014.

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