5 Incredible Ways Drones Are Helping Save Lives

Drones can dust crops, spy on the neighbors, and even drop bombs in a war. Now engineers are looking for ways to put the remote-controlled unmanned aircraft to work treating sick people in any corner of the world. Here’s a look at their most promising health applications.

Sean Mccabe for Reader's Digest

Delivering Medication to Rural Americans

More than two years ago, as part of a study to demonstrate that such flights are safe, a group of research and health organizations flew the first drone approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to deliver medication. FAA regulations currently prevent operators from flying drones out of their line of sight, but organi­zations hope that restrictions will soon be lifted so they can create a regular service to bring medications for asthma, blood pressure, diabetes, and other conditions to residents in isolated pockets of Appalachia. (Here are the questions you should ask before taking prescription medication.)

Sending Blood to Surgeons In Remote Regions

In 2016, the California-based company Zipline started flying commercial drones from its distribution center in Muhanga, Rwanda, to nearly two dozen hospitals in the country, carrying packets of human blood to be used for trans­fusions in surgeries and complicated childbirths. The company uses fixed-wing drones, which have a greater range and are better able to withstand bad weather than the more common multicopter models, and Zipline operators monitor each flight on an iPad. The routes are preprogrammed using a 3-D satellite map and detailed ground surveys to ensure that the drones drop their packages within a target area 16 feet in diameter. Zipline promises to airdrop the deliveries within as little as 15 minutes from the time they are requested; by car, these trips take hours. The first company in the world to offer regular remote delivery of emergency medical supplies, Zipline hopes to expand to other countries, including the United States, if regulations allow.

Sean Mccabe for Reader's Digest

Ferrying Defibrillators to Heart Attack Victims

In a recent study, researchers simulated emergency situations in a six-mile radius from a fire station in rural Sweden and found they could get automatic external defibrillators to the scene an average of 16 minutes faster by drone than by ambulance. If bystanders were willing and able to use the devices, which come with simple instructions, the shorter response time could save lives, says lead author ­Andreas Claesson, a registered nurse. (Here are the silent signs of a heart attack you should know.)

Bringing Google Glass to Disaster Victims

The William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Hatties­burg, Mississippi, is developing a drone to deliver telemedicine kits that would let doctors treat victims of natural disasters or terrorist attacks from afar. One key component would be Google Glass, a device worn like a pair of glasses, which would allow a bystander to examine a victim and simultaneously broadcast the images to a doctor in a remote location, who could then relay treatment instructions.

Saving Swimmers from Drowning

When beachgoers noticed a 15- and 17-year-old struggling to swim off the coast of Australia, lifeguards jumped into action. Instead of diving into the strong waves himself, though, the rescuer saved time by guiding a drone to drop an inflatable rescue pod to the teens. The rescue equipment arrived within two minutes, and the swimmers made it safely to shore. (These true water rescue stories will make you re-think how you swim.)

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest