Imagine taking off in an air ambulance but without a pilot! Seems like a scene from a science fiction movie, right? Well, not anymore. The technology is already a reality, and now, the efforts are on to make it more widely available. The International Civil Aviation Organization has set out on an ambitious project that will soon see our skies fill with autonomous air ambulance vehicles. The fact that these will be “electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles” makes the entire prospect even more exciting. In this context, it must be noted that it will be cheaper and more eco-friendly than its yesteryear counterparts.
EHang Air Ambulance is Leading the Way
EHang is a Nasdaq-listed company that has pioneered the autonomous air ambulance vehicle industry. The company finds it origin in China where it has already been deployed during the COVID-19 crisis. Imagine being able to control the air ambulance from the ground. There would not be a need to have the entire crew on board, thus minimizing the risk of contracting the infection. Plus, these compact air ambulance vehicles can easily land and take off without the need for a lot of space. EHang will be the guiding force of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s project and is expected to share its technical and operational expertise in the arena.
EHang has found great success in its passenger grade aircraft that it calls the EHang 216. It is a two-seater that is ideal for transporting patients and medical supplies to reasonably short distances. It must be noted that international repatriations will still be something that the traditional air ambulance vehicles will have to undertake. It is noteworthy that most air ambulance evacuations are domestic and involve motor vehicle accidents and medical emergencies due to underlying chronic diseases. It would not be an overstatement to say that autonomous air ambulances are all set to change we handle medical emergencies in the days to come.
Medical air transport could witness a drastic transformation if the Urban Air Mobility challenge is successful. The intent behind the challenge is to bring greater mobility to urban areas that are usually dense with people and traffic, hindering emergency transportation. The challenge has been put forth by NASA. The organization has already signed up 17 different agencies in the aviation industry, and the results could bring about a sea of change in medical air transport. NASA will be leveraging its partnership with the FAA to make the effort successful. Moreover, it would help to expedite the most viable solutions.
Although the challenge will begin this year, the first actual Grand Challenge will be held in the year 2022 where developmental activities will finally take place. This will include real-world scenarios as well as simulation environments. The participants will be judged on criteria such as communication, surveillance, and navigation. NASA will help the chosen ones with quick approvals and tech certifications.
Healthcare Technology and Medical Air Transport
Royal Philips is a well-known player in the international health technology domain. Now, the organization has embarked on an effort to make emergency services such as medical air transport more efficient. The company plans to first look at the wealth of data that the healthcare industry currently sits upon. This can help emergency services be more precise in their response. For instance, a medical air transport company, with the help of real-time data, will be able to carry the right specialists and the right equipment for better outcomes.
At the same time, Philips is trying to make bulky equipment such as defibrillators and monitors more compact so that they can be carried around more easily. If successful, the effort could result in better patient and provider satisfaction. It may even cut the cost of emergency medical services.
Drones have immense potential to augment the efforts of the air ambulance industry. They reduce costs, reach treacherous terrains, and function in risky situations. Thanks to modern technologies like cloud computing and Internet of Things, drones today are making advances in leaps and bounces. However, drones can be a menace too. Flying too close to air ambulances have caused many flights to be aborted midway and led to near-fatal accidents. The fact that such disturbances occur when carrying critical patients is an added insult to the injury. In other words, the air ambulance industry views drones with a mixed feeling. Here, we take a look at some recent developments that prove our point.
The Air Ambulance Industry is Trying to Tackle Stray Drones
Air ambulance industry experts say that, in the UK, drones are not allowed to fly over 400 feet. Failing to comply with this rule can attract fines of up to 1,000 British pounds. However, the problem is that air ambulances, most of the time, are compelled to fly below this altitude. With a growing number of hobbyists taking up flying drones, this is turning out to be a real danger for the air ambulance industry.
The only thing that medical flight organizations can do in this scenario is building awareness. Industry experts say that a good rule of thumb is to keep the drones in sight at all times. If the drone is not visible to the hobbyist, it is likely that it is disturbing a helicopter, likely a medical flight that is en route, trying to help a critical patient before it is too late.
A Full-Service Drone Company Takes Birth in the United States
There is also some good news for the air ambulance industry pertaining to drones. A company by the name Aquiline has come up with a drone that is capable of executing medical rescue operations. The company has developed a dedicated cloud environment and an operating system to make drone operations seamless.
In light of the above developments, it is safe to say that responsible use of drones will definitely help the air ambulance industry in the future.
Cost saving seems to be the concern of the air ambulance industry in recent times. While there are several resources like the hangar and quality maintenance that cannot be contained, there are certain aspects that technology can help with. Fuel efficiency and route mapping are among those. In fact, the two are closely connected to each other, especially when it comes to long-distance air ambulance evacuation. Let’s dive into the factors that affect the two and how technology can help the air ambulance industry in this regard.
Air Ambulance Industry and Fuel Efficiency
Contingency fuel itself can be a source of fuel wastage for the air ambulance industry. Wondering how? It’s a no brainer – lesser weight translates to lesser fuel. Contingency fuel is usually carried to meet any unforeseen circumstance that can compel medical flight to be on air for a longer period of time.
If there was a mechanism where any adverse conditions can be predicted beforehand, the need for contingency fuel can be negated completely or at least reduced to a huge extent. The approach would help greatly.
Another aspect is flight route. Often, air ambulances are compelled to change their flight path or flight at varying altitudes due to changing weather conditions. Actions like these accelerate the fuel burn pace. If this uncertainty can be taken away, route planning becomes more efficient where the medical flight need not be on air for longer times than necessary. Needless to say, this increases the fuel efficiency and as a consequence, cuts associated costs.
How Technology Helps
Satellite connectivity in real time can help to a huge extent to plan the routes, but this is nothing new to the air ambulance industry but connect analytical algorithms to weather data and you have something new. The combination brings to the table the ability to predict weather and plan routes even better.
Blockchain has been largely associated with cryptocurrencies but what a sizeable number of people do not know is that it has several applications, especially when it comes to security of data and operations. The air ambulance industry can benefit hugely from this technology. It is taking the world by a storm cutting across sectors today.
Cross border transactions, data security, and international regulatory compliance are just some of the areas that blockchain technology can prove of value. In a business world where digital transformation is making big waves, the air ambulance industry cannot afford to remain isolated today. It must actively look towards adopting this technology.
Blockchain makes Cross-Border Air Ambulance Transactions Seamless
Transactions usually take place through a centralized ledger. In other words, the monitoring of financial transactions is done from one central point. The nature of air ambulance business is contrary to this. It is dispersed and depending on one central point is often a hindrance.
Blockchain transforms this process through a decentralized ledger where an immutable record of every change made in the system is maintained. It is unchangeable and transparent. Every time even a small change is made to the ledger, it is immediately recorded. This gives a clear picture of who is responsible for what.
Data Security Made Easy
The inability to make any changes without recording who did it and not being able to change this ‘log’ later is blockchain technology’s biggest strength. Any sensitive data pertaining to business or patients simply cannot be stolen without being noticed. This feature acts as a deterrent to both internal and external parties. Unscrupulous elements would simply not attempt to steal or modify data for their advantage owing to the risk of being recognized.
Features like these and more make blockchain technology one that must be adopted by the air ambulance industry today.
Air ambulance services are usually viewed from a narrow lens. In other words, we associate medical flights with emergencies at a very granular level where individuals are rescued. We tend to ignore that they are a huge part of relief and rescue efforts at a government level across the globe. When natural calamities and manmade disasters are epic in proportion, air ambulances are the last hope for survival sometimes. Of course, they do not work in isolation and are a part of the bigger emergency response ecosystem. However, sharing of data, managing them securely and keeping the entire picture transparent and tamper-proof can be a challenge. This is something that blockchain technology can get right.
Blockchain Technology is More than Bitcoins
What most people fail to understand is that Bitcons or cryptocurrencies are just one application of blockchain technology. The real benefit is enablement of a system in which data flow is seamless, transparent and unchangeable. For large government organizations across the world, this is a huge plus because emergency situations are often soft targets for unscrupulous exploitation. Blockchain can keep make it virtually impossible for anyone to tamper with data and consequently the relief funds.
What is Blockchain Technology and How Can it Help Air Ambulance Services
We already know that blockchain brings to picture an immutable record of transactions. For air ambulance services, the biggest benefit is the trustworthy connection it brings to the emergency response ecosystem.
The answer to what the technology is all about: Blockchain is essentially a network that brings a large group together into a system where no change can be made in the dark. The only way to make a change is to make it apparent to the rest of the stakeholders in the network. Also, there is no going back to modify data. In all, this brings transparency to a group where the flow of information is truthful at all times.
Wearable technology can play a vital role in streamlining emergency services, especially when it comes to air ambulances. Imagine this situation: John is out on a mountaineering expedition with a small group of adventurers. Unfortunately for him, there is an avalanche and he is stuck neck deep under the snow. Injured, he is unable to move. The only thing that’s keeping him alive is the hope that air ambulances get to him soon, but he is not even in a position to make a call. Yet, it only takes 15 minutes for an air ambulance to be dispatched, and in the next 30, he is on an air ambulance. How was it all possible?
Wearable Devices Can Contact Air Ambulances
It sounds like science fiction that a simple watch or a device that you wear can actually call air ambulances during emergencies and that too without any intervention from you. How can a device so small be so intelligent? The answer: it is a mix of logic and technology. Here’s how it works – the wearable device continuously monitors the person wearing it. His vital signs such as his heart beat, breathing, temperature, etc, are monitored. When there is a drastic drop in any of the signs; for instance, heartbeat, the device requests the person wearing it to intervene. If he does not intervene, the device assumes that the person is in trouble and automatically sends a signal to emergency services for a response.
There is More to Wearable Technology
Let’s go back t John who is stuck under the snow. The biggest challenge facing air ambulances would be his location. Thanks to the device, it provides the precise location coordinates to the first responders. Not just that, it continuously sends across his vital signs so that they can gauge his health condition on an ongoing basis.
What makes the device so intelligent is a combination of sensors programmed to monitor the vital signs and its ability to communicate using mobile and cloud technology.
It is hard to believe that the future will see more efficient emergency transportation than air ambulances. However, it is true and that future is not very far. The advent of smart vehicles, autonomous driving technology, drones, electric power and the like are transforming emergency transportation today. In the age of patient centricity, the technology that suits the patients’ requirements will rule the industry. While vehicles capable of landing vertically will make a huge difference in treacherous plains, swiftly moving vehicles will be in demand when time is vital. Here, we take a brief look at the different technologies that are making waves today.
Flying Cars and Air Ambulances
Flying cars have been testing human imagination since the 1980s. Their biggest advantage is their ability to take off and land vertically, as well as the fact that they are highly compact. Now, with technology enabling efficient ground support, it will come as no surprise if we see flying cars being used as air ambulances. The other major advantage from the air ambulance service providers’ point of view is the ability to store or park these vehicles without much expense. The current system where they are expected to hire spaces in large hangars can be done away with if flying cars become a reality and can in turn bring down the cost of availing the service too.
Drones and Autonomous Vehicles
A lot of innovation and research has gone into autonomous vehicles and drones. In fact, a combination of these technologies can be quite exciting. Imagine a scenario where an air ambulance company dispatches an autonomous drone capable of handling heavy loads while controlling it remotely. There would not be a need for pilot. This will also make more space for the patient in the compact vehicle, where he or she gets all the life support required.
The technology that guides air ambulances will further improve as artificial intelligence, internet of things, big data and the like progress.
People with a flair for adventure and a want to do good for the society are the ones who usually choose a career in the air ambulance industry. Of course, money is a criterion too and, for the most part, remuneration too is considered good. We have, in the past, pointed out that there is going to be a continually huge demand for air ambulance technicians and pilots in the days to come and the demand will last for almost a decade or even more. However, not many people understand that the industry is at the cusp of a disruption for the good and technology is leading this change. In the days to come, innovation will drive the industry to bring about efficiency in cost, customer experiences and operations.
How Technology Drives Air Ambulance Flying Experiences
The way customer data is utilized by air ambulance companies will determine what kind of experience they ultimately provide to their customers. Their health needs can be taken care of more efficiently. This data also opens up ancillary sales opportunities. For example, the luxury that a patient is used to or the expectations of the person accompanying the patient can be gleaned through the various online tools at our disposal today.
There is also connected technology or IoT or Internet of Things, which connects the various parts of a flight to the ground staff for ongoing monitoring of its flight worthiness. The technology can even make predictive maintenance possible wherein an air ambulance organization can predict a problem that the aircraft might encounter and take anticipatory action to avoid the problem all together.
Newer Technology Means Newer Opportunities
With all these technologies proving useful for the air ambulance industry, the innovative digital skills needed for their implementation will be in high demand. People looking for a career in the air ambulance sector have a wider career option today.
Imagine this: the medical flight has emergency personnel seated in it and is en route to pick up a patient in a remote area but there’s one crucial member of the crew missing. Guess who? The pilot! Yes, that’s right! The medical flight technology is slowly moving toward autonomous flights that are sans pilots. If this sounds like science fiction to you, here’s a surprise. SkyRyse, which is a Silicon Valley start up, is already testing autonomous helicopters in emergency settings. It is known to have carried police and emergency personnel safely in response to mock emergency calls and the testing will continue.
How Safe is the Autonomous Medical Flight Technology?
Experts feel that it is quite safe. It is believed that the flights use the same technology that is used in driverless cars. A combination of software and hardware that is continually monitored from the control room and a medical flight that is controlled by itself – that about sums up what this technology is all about. Although the technology is still in a nascent stage, it will make huge strides in the days to come. A lot of this technology’s development will depend on machine learning and artificial intelligence which will allow it to learn the nuances of flying without any human intervention.
The Factors that will Make this Technology a Success
Ask yourself this question, “Am I ready to take a medical flight that does not have a pilot?” Trust of the customers in the new technology is going to be a decisive factor. Then there is the cost. It is a tussle between the cost of acquiring such a technology and the return on investment that it ultimately brings. Will this new technology demand high maintenance cost? Or will it reduce it? Regulations are another factor. Innovations that have the potential to give rise to safety risks typically take longer to get government approvals. For now, it’s a wait and watch for all of us.