© - Andreas Heddergott / TUM

For cardiac arrest victims, minutes can mean the difference between life and death. It’s vital that medical emergency response teams get to them quickly, but in more remote, rural areas this can sometimes be difficult. “HORYZN” is an initiative of students at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and has developed a remote-controlled, AI-supported rescue drone with a defibrillator on board for just such emergencies.

The fixed-wing drone – nearly 2 meters long with a wingspan of 3 meters – can reach areas that are difficult or even impossible to access with an ambulance. As soon as the aircraft reaches the coordinates received via emergency call, it goes into hover mode and lowers the defibrillator with a winch to the ground, where it can be easily deployed by first-aiders, including non-professionals, at the scene. This rapid deployment considerably increases the survival chances of the heart-attack patient, writes TUM in a press release.

Prototype test-flight successful

With the help of the Bavarian Red Cross and a simulated emergency, the HORYZN team was able to demonstrate the technical capabilities of their prototype with a test flight in Ottobrunn on Wednesday. The demonstration was watched by TUM President, Prof. Thomas F. Hofmann, alongside Bavarian Science Minister Bernd Sibler and other guests.

Following on from his M.Sc. in Aerospace, project team leader Balázs Nagy is working at the TUM Institute of Flight System Dynamics. He is rightly proud of his diverse team: “There are 70 of us from 30 different countries and 9 faculties, reaching across engineering and informatics, through to medicine and economics. It’s wonderful that the University can provide us with the diversity of talent, as well as every necessary support to make such a complex project possible.”

Praise in high places

Following the test-flight, TUM President Hofmann spoke of his pride in the initiative of TUM students: “I’m always delighted to see how our students use their free time to get together across the disciplines and explore technologies that can be used to help people. They make the University a space for experimentation, for trying out and developing new things, gaining useful experience that will be invaluable to them later on in their careers.”

Science Minister Sibler said the project was a prime example of what creative young scientists can achieve. “I’m hugely impressed by the enthusiasm and dedication of the HORYZN team,” he said. This team’s pioneering and committed work has shown once again how innovative technologies can help people and even save lives. I’m particularly happy,” he said, “that this successful initiative was the work of the TUM’s Department of Aerospace and Geodesy. The Department receives bespoke support from our multi-billion-dollar technology and innovation offensive Hightech Agenda Bayern, and the Hightech Agenda Plus acceleration program.”

A problem in need of a solution

Cardiac arrest is an all too frequent medical emergency. In Germany alone, some 75,000 people experience sudden cardiac arrest every year – and only 11 percent survive. Ambulance response times in rural areas average 9 to 15 minutes, and more remote areas can be completely inaccessible. With flight speeds of up to 120 km/hour, the life-saving drone can reach the patient in just 4 to 5 minutes, regardless of the local road infrastructure.

In early 2022, the HORYZN team wants to apply for an operating license from the German and EU aviation safety authorities. In the final project phase, hundreds of these drones could be stationed in rural areas and controlled remotely via control centres. In an emergency, the alarm would be raised via the usual rescue coordination centres, making the drone a meaningful addition to existing rescue networks.

Also interesting: KNRM tests use of drones in rescue operations

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