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NC State researcher joins forces with UNC-CH to save heart attack victims

Drone demo at Lake Wheeler. Photo by Marc Hall

NC State researchers have been working with peers at UNC-CH to use drones to help save lives by quickly delivering automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) to people suffering from heart attacks. These drones will equip first responders, including bystanders, with life-saving equipment and reduce response time for cardiac arrest victims, especially in rural communities where equipment and residences are more spread out.

One in four deaths in the United States is a result of heart disease — which roughly equates to 610,000 people per year. Only six percent of those who experience out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survive, despite emergency cardiac care advancements and widespread placement of AEDs in public places. Every minute without defibrillation reduces the chances of survival by 10 percent.

Carolina epidemiology professor Wayne Rosamond and NC State researcher from the Institute for Transportation Research and Education Evan Arnold are working hard to improve those numbers. “Even though there are AEDs around, they are rarely used and many cardiac arrests happen at home where AEDs are generally not close by. This is where a drone can really make a difference,” said Rosamond, who teaches in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. “If we can bring the AED to the scene of a cardiac arrest by a drone really quickly when the other option for defibrillation is to wait for the ambulance, it could save lives.”

The drones can quickly deliver AED devices with enough precision to ensure access to the equipment. “It’s pretty accurate. It lands in maybe a 10-foot circle,” said Arnold, an Unmanned Aerial Systems Engineering Research Associate. Arnold served as both researcher and the drone operator in tests conducted on the UNC-CH campus in February of 2019.

This project is a result of a collaboration made possible through partial funding from a TraCS/NC State Collaborative Grant.