Drone-delivered AEDs offer novel approach to saving lives at home

From left: Professors Tim Chan (MIE), Angela Schoellig (UTIAS) and PhD candidate Justin Boutillier (IndE) found that drone delivery of automatic external defibrillators could shave crucial minutes off ambulance response times in both rural and urban regions. (Credit: Liz Do).

From left: Professors Tim Chan (MIE), Angela Schoellig (UTIAS) and PhD candidate Justin Boutillier (IndE) found that drone delivery of automatic external defibrillators could shave crucial minutes off ambulance response times in both rural and urban regions. (Credit: Liz Do).

When a person goes into cardiac arrest, every passing minute hurts their chances of survival. Now, a group of U of T Engineering researchers want to use drones to deliver life-saving automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) rapidly and directly to homes.

Justin Boutilier (IndE PhD candidate) envisions a future in which a bystander or family member who witnesses a cardiac arrest can call 911, and within minutes, an AED is flown to their doorstep or balcony to be administered, even before the paramedics arrive.

Boutilier is working under Professor Timothy Chan (MIE), Director of the Centre for Healthcare Engineering at U of T, in collaboration with Professor Angela Schoellig (UTIAS) and researchers from the St. Michael’s Hospital Rescu program, in order to turn this futuristic idea into a life-saving reality.

This project comes on the heels of research by Chan’s lab on cardiac arrests that occur outside of hospitals, and the lack of accessible AEDs in public locations during non-business hours. Boutilier is now focusing on reducing deaths from cardiac arrests that occur at home.

About 85 per cent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in Southern Ontario take place within a private residence. “For those arrests, the public AEDs are not useful because it’s hard to get to them in time. It’s also not cost effective to put AEDs everywhere in the suburbs,” explained Boutilier.

“Not only is the survival rate of private-location cardiac arrests low, the response times are also slower than public locations,” said Chan. “So we thought, we need to come up with something completely new.”

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