National / Science & Health

Drones to be tested for use by ambulance crews

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

First responders will test the use of drones to help sick or injured people this fall in an initiative that could see the remote-controlled devices added to emergency kits nationwide.

The trials in Kyushu will involve medics flying medicines, defibrillators and other medical supplies to places where airborne delivery will be faster than on land.

“Drones add more options for rescuers to reach patients,” said project leader Yusuke Enjoji, an official in the Saga Prefectural Government.

Enjoji is CEO of the group behind the project, the Emergency Medical and Disaster Coping Automated Drones Support System Utilization Promotion Council, or Edac.

Trials will involve flights at a Kyushu University campus in Fukuoka and locations in Saga. The tests will focus on drones’ accuracy and resilience in windy conditions.

The trials are scheduled to continue until March, and the findings will be presented at symposiums in Fukuoka and Tokyo.

If all goes well, the group hopes to integrate drones with tools available to emergency responders on a typical 119 call.

The caller’s location can be determined from the GPS fix of their mobile phone, and the drone’s video camera may help rescuers to grasp the situation before they arrive.

It goes without saying that proper first aid increases the chances of survival. A survey by the Tokyo Fire Department found that only 4.7 percent of heart attack victims who received no help survived another month and that 15.1 percent of those who did lived to tell the tale.

Although an automated external defibrillator can save a life, building owners are not legally obliged to have one on the premises. Moreover, Enjoji believes they are not always used effectively because people are inexperienced at using them or panic.

“Even if people have learned how to use AED before, they may forget it because using the device is not common,” he said.

Drone delivery of an AED could include instructions on its use, he said. And just getting it to the victim is the important thing, even if medical professionals cannot get reach them quickly, because bystanders might be able to use them.

The project is funded by the internal affairs ministry as a part of its promotion of the “internet of things” the idea of linking items for coordinated wireless use.

The group wants to deploy drones in Tokyo in future. However, due to safety and security fears, the government has designated most of the capital as a no-drone zone.

Under current regulations, drones are banned from flying above residential areas and individual facilities such as the Prime Minister’s Office.

The experiments in non-urban areas will show that drones are safe to fly in highly populated areas of Tokyo, Enjoji said. He hopes they will be in widespread use by the 2020 Olympics.

“Drones, the internet of things, self-driving cars and artificial intelligence … many cutting-edge technologies are emerging quickly. But we have not used them to their full potential as many people are still wary,” Enjoji said.

“As depopulation is inevitable for Japan … we should take advantage of these to fill the labor shortage.”