Any drone hobbyist will tell you just how fun it is to fly an unmanned aerial vehicle. Whipping around in these little devices is a great way to spend a weekend, but this technology isn’t all about fun and games. In fact, organizations all over the world are working on innovations that could allow drones to save a lot of lives.
Testing for HIV in Africa
HIV and AIDS are huge concerns for the people of Africa right now. In fact, the World Health Organization reported that Africa accounts for around 75 percent of all deaths that can be traced back to untreated HIV infection. Sadly, many of the people dying are children who had received the disease through infected mothers, an issue that both UNICEF and Matternet are trying to solve with drones.
“Africa accounts for around 75 percent of all deaths that can be traced back to HIV.”
According to the BBC’s Karen Allen, around 10,000 Malawi children perished due to diseases related to HIV in 2014 alone. Although there’s obviously many reasons behind these tragedies, one of the most important is the lack of a robust local infrastructure and medical support system.
To begin, only eight facilities in the entirety of Malawi can test for HIV in children, as doing so is much harder than discovering the disease in adults. On top of this, African roads are notorious for being underdeveloped or having fallen into disrepair, which means that the only way to move blood samples is to give them to a motorcyclist. The waste of human capital is bad enough, but the treacherous roads can also lead to an accident that could compromise the samples.
To get over this problem, both UNICEF and Matternet want to utilize drones in order to move the blood from the child to the testing facilities. While aerial delivery is much faster than driving, which would allow samples to be analyzed quicker, the truly revolutionary piece these organizations are working on here is making the drone totally autonomous. The device would theoretically be able to fly without any sort of human intervention, which would allow for a more efficient use of human minds.
Of course, this solution is in the early stages of testing. While the electricity needed to fly the drone is infinitely cheaper than the gas for a motorcycle, the device itself currently costs around $7,000. On top of that, UNICEF and Matternet need to know if such a drone would be able to regularly work in the humidity and other weather conditions of sub-Saharan Africa. However, if both organizations can work out these logistics, a lot of children could get the diagnosis and subsequent treatment that they desperately need.
Drones could help drowning swimmers
Clearly, one of the great benefits of drones is that they can get to an area much faster than a human can. When an emergency occurs, time is of the essence, and this is nowhere more true than in a drowning situation. Not only can swimmers often drown faster than the time it takes for a lifeguard to get to them, but they also sometimes pull rescuers underwater in a panicky move to get more air. This shows that the job might be done better by a UAV.
Researchers at Microdrones worked with the German Lifeguard Association in order to showcase how a drone might be able to help a drowning swimmer. In a demonstration posted on Microdrones’s website, a device was outfitted with a RESTUBE. This is a flotation device that starts out at the size of a water bottle. When someone is drowning, it expands with air to allow the swimmer to grab on and keep themselves above water.
“An adult drowns in approximately 60 seconds and a child in only 30. All too often, this is not enough time for the victim to be reached by a lifeguard,” said Christopher Fuhrhop, CEO of RESTUBE. “Flying over the water is a much quicker way to reach the victim. By combining UAVs and RESTUBE flotation devices, we are able to buy the drowning person valuable time that could very well mean the difference between life and death.”
Another important feature that Microdrones tested out was the camera that live-streams the drone’s point of view to a lifeguard operating the device on land. This lets the person see exactly where they need to drop the RESTUBE in order to best help the drowning swimmer.