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A stretcher for the 21st century

Posted By David Shamah On January 18, 2009 @ 12:21 pm In | No Comments

In the immediate aftermath of an accident or battle, the MedUAV allows doctors to treat the injured in the field and then get them out quickly and safely. It’s called the “golden hour” – the immediate aftermath of an injury, when medical care makes the most difference. According to many emergency room doctors, patients heal more quickly and efficiently if they are treated within the first 60 minutes after sustaining an injury or trauma.

In the hospital, the golden hour is easy to beat; there’s a full staff of care workers, and the hospital has the life-saving equipment and supplies doctors need to treat patients properly. In the field, though, it’s a different story; every minute counts, and if the patient is in a spot that ambulances or medical workers can’t get to, the golden hour can quickly pass – and with it, the chances for a patient to fully recover.

Thanks to Herzliya’s Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, more injured people will be able to receive golden hour treatment – even if they’re stuck in a location that doctors and ambulances can’t get to.

To expand the range of patients who can be treated in this first hour, Tal Inbar, and Dr. Eran Schenker, head of the Fisher Institute’s Aerospace Medicine Research Center, have designed the MedUAV concept vehicle – an unmanned air vehicle that can hover, land, or take off vertically without the need for a runway or a landing pad.

Flying in aid, flying out patients

A revolutionary device in the area of field medicine, the MedUAV can deliver medical supplies and advanced gear into the field, or transport patients to nearby medical facilities.

The idea for the MedUAV came as a result of research carried out by Schenker on battlefield medicine. “Under battlefield conditions, it’s almost impossible to ensure proper care when injuries occur,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

“The challenge is getting the soldier to the treatment area. Evacuating patients in time to take advantage of that first hour where treatment is so vital, is very difficult, because often helicopters or other modes of transport can’t get to the field because of the ongoing battle – and it’s impossible to take all the equipment that would be needed for proper care right to the front,” he explains.

In fact, the most practical method for transporting injured soldiers – the stretcher – dates back to World War I. “There have been some improvements in the basic model since then, but the concept is the same,” says Schenker, adding that the MedUAV is designed to be the 21st century answer to the stretcher.

The strength of the device, which is already at prototype stage and will be launched in the coming months, is that it can fly in all the gear necessary for treatment of the injured – like a flying first aid kit – enabling field medical workers to administer treatment, even if the patient can’t be transported to a field hospital right away.

“In addition, the equipment can be monitored remotely by a doctor, so when a patient is hooked up to a device in the field, the doctor at the medical center can see readings and measurements – and guide the field worker to use the equipment to its best advantage,” says Schenker.

And, once the initial treatment is completed, the patient can be strapped into the MedUAV for transport back to the medical center.

A safer alternative to helicopters

So how is the MedUAV different from, say, a helicopter? For one thing, it’s safer, says Schenker, because it doesn’t require a crew to fly directly into a battle zone. “Where military commanders might be afraid to send a helicopter because of the danger it would be shot down, they would be more willing to send an unmanned UAV. Besides being unmanned, it’s a much smaller target, and thus harder to shoot down and more likely to get to where it has to go,” he explains.

That, combined with the MedUAV’s ability to hover, launching and landing vertically with little (if any) open ground space, makes it a more practical solution for emergency battlefield treatment and transport than helicopters, he says.

And what works on the battlefield will work in civilian emergencies as well – like earthquakes, where it’s likely that the debris from toppled buildings would make it very difficult to fly in medical help.

The MedUAV could also be used in the event of train and bus crashes, where victims are often stuck in ravines – such as the recent bus accident near Eilat, where 25 Russian tour guides were killed. The concept could also be used in situations where civilians find themselves under fire.

US Navy expresses interest

The flexibility of the device is already attracting interest from overseas. The US Navy and other military organizations have approached the institute to find out more.

The Fisher Institute is a non-profit research organization that funds air and space technology projects. It is modeled on the Rand Institute in the US, according to Brigadier General Asaf Agmon, the institute’s CEO.

Among the Fisher Institute’s missions, Agmon says, is working on research to enhance air and space travel, developing position papers on the issues in order to promote discussion and research, organizing conventions and forums for international researchers to gather and discuss ideas, and running educational programs to raise awareness on advances in air and space research.

One project the Fisher Institute has underwritten, says Agmon, has been research into how birds and planes can coexist in increasingly crowded skies, and how to handle medical emergencies in the air.

The institute also runs dozens of after-school “flying clubs,” where kids learn about aviation and space, and participate in a science contest, in which they build prototypes of devices that will make air travel safer.

In May last year, the MedUAV concept was selected as one of the best 60 technology projects at the “Facing Tomorrow” exhibition, part of the Israel Presidential Conference 2008.

This project is exactly the type of thing Israel excels at,” says Schenker. “We’re one of the top countries in the world in the field of UAV development, medical devices, and tele-medicine – remote treatment of patients. The MedUAV is a meld of these three areas of distinction, and we expect the project to succeed and do well.”

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