In emergencies, seconds count. An estimated 1,000 "saveable" lives are lost a year because of slow emergency response in the nation’s biggest cities. But in traffic-jammed urban environments, how can a four-wheeled ambulance be expected to make it anywhere and back quickly?
Design firm argodesign has a wild conceptual solution. It’s a one-person ambulance drone modeled after a standard quadcopter—driven by a GPS, pilot, or combination of both—that could be dispatched to an emergency scene with a single EMT. It’s designed to land almost anywhere, thanks to a footprint the size of a compact car. The EMT stabilizes the patient, loads him up, and sends him back to the hospital for further treatment.
"Obviously, it’s not a thoroughly vetted concept, but I think it’s extremely intriguing where drones might show up," says Mark Rolston, founder of argodesign. "It would be nice to see them used this way, rather than another military function or more photography."
The idea was born from a team brainstorming session around how health care could become more accessible. The designers first thought about how they could build a better ambulance, and the rise of autonomous vehicles inspired them to consider a self-driving ambulance. Then they thought of helicopters and drones, and the rest developed from there.
Assuming you could build it, the drone’s benefits would be significant. A single pilot who would usually fly a single helicopter could manage a whole fleet of drone ambulances remotely, relying on autopilot through the skies, and taking over manual controls only during more complicated takeoffs and landings. There’s also the issue of price: Rolston believes an ultralight drone could be constructed in the million dollar range. That's several times more expensive than a wheeled ambulance, but still cheaper than a medical helicopter.
"It’s basic product innovation: Faster, cheaper, better," Rolston says. "Many more of these would cost less to service."
As wild as the idea may seem, it's not entirely implausible. Drones exist, they are getting better by the day, and they're about to take over our skies (some day). Autonomous drivers will be on our streets within the next year. Why not fuse these two ideas?
"I wouldn’t be surprised to get emails, to hear lots of the aeronautics companies saying, ‘we are working on something like this,’" Rolston says. "It makes perfect sense. We may have underestimated the wingspan challenge for lift, but in a greater scheme of things, that’s a trivial part of the idea."
Argodesign made a second concept for our Body Week—one that we have the technology to produce today—based upon the Disney MagicBand. See it here.