Canadian Paramedic Service Tests BVLOS, LTE Drone Operations
Wednesday, October 30, 2019 | Comments
A Canadian paramedic service and industry partners are exploring beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and working to test use cases for the technology.

During a recent trial in September, Renfrew County Paramedic Service in Ontario and companies including InDro Robotics, Cradlepoint and Ericsson successfully used a UAS, also known as a drone, to deliver medical aid to a scene more than 10 miles away.

The trial tested the ability of BVLOS drone operations to deliver life-saving aid before medical crews arrive and examined the benefits of using commercial Long Term Evolution (LTE), instead of private licensed radio frequencies, to control drones.

The test simulated an emergency situation with a patient experiencing a heart attack with the drone delivering an automated external defibrillator (AED) to bystanders to help provide care to the patient before medical personnel can arrive. The test covered a sparsely populated plains area that is routinely difficult to provide medical service to because of its distance from an emergency services base, said Michael Nolan, director of emergency services for Renfrew County.

The pre-arrival aid tested in the trial could greatly impact the chances of survival for patients in similar instances. When dealing with a medical emergency such as a heart attack, reducing response times by a minute increases a patient’s chance of survival by 10 percent, Nolan said. By equipping the drones with an AED, the county hopes that it can increase the survival rate of patients suffering similar medical emergencies from 10 – 15% to 30%, he said.

One of the keys to making such an application work is staging the drones in locations to best maximize the area covered by medical services. In Renfrew County, the drones are staged about halfway between medical service locations because those are generally underserved areas in terms of medical services, Nolan said. “The deployability factor is key in that we’re filling gaps by using a platform that gives us greater flexibility.”

In both Canada and U.S., the aviation authorities restrict organizations’ ability to fly drones BVLOS because of risks to people on the ground not associated with the flying operation and collisions with other air traffic.

Transport Canada, one of two organizations that regulate drone use in Canada, allows a group of partners, including InDro Robotics, to fly BVLOS operations in certain areas without a waiver, said InDro Robotics Founder Philip Reece.

Participants in the program must complete a risk assessment matrix for each operation type they undertake with BVLOS so that they are prepared to mitigate any risks that arise during the operation. A matrix is not required for each individual operation as long as that operation falls under a type the organization has already completed a matrix for, Reece said.

One concern with BVLOS communications is a drone’s ability to adapt to unexpected or rapidly changing conditions in the air. For example, how can an operator mitigate disaster should a drone encounter a larger, manned aircraft?

To help address those issues with BVLOS operations, InDro Robotics drones have edge computing capabilities to help them better process information and adapt to unexpected situations. For example, the drones can process wind and weather information and adjust their flights to account for those conditions, or they can detect a nearby plane and make corrections to their path to avoid collision, Reece said.

Pilots monitor the drones but because the drones are capable of making many decisions on their own, the pilot is mainly overseeing the operation rather than actually flying it, Reece said. One factor helping enable the smarter drones for the operation is the use of cellular frequencies to control the drones.

Many public-safety drone operations rely on radio to operate the drone, but LTE networks can provide greater reliability and connectivity for drone operations, said Heather Read, director of business development in Canada for Cradlepoint.

The drone in the trial was equipped with a Cradlepoint router that is purpose-built for enterprise and first responder applications, so it is more reliable than a consumer-grade product, Read said. The router supports LTE Advanced (LTE-A) capabilities and Cradlepoint, InDro and Renfrew County are testing Gigabit LTE solutions with drones as well. Many Canadian carriers are building Gigabit LTE capabilities, and those capabilities promise greater speed and the ability to transmit more data at greater detail, Read said.

Additionally, the larger footprint of commercial cellular networks provides the drones with a longer range than a private radio network, extending the range of the drones, and increased connectivity and reliability from the LTE signals makes the landing range easier, Read said.

“It’s one thing to stay in the sky; it’s another thing to land at that range,” she said. “By pulling it all together, it not only gets us in the air but gets us where we need to go.”

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On 11/19/19, Tack Takagawa said:
In Japan some golf clubs have been deploying drones to provide AED in the golf courses.

On 11/18/19, Robert said:
... reducing response times by a minute increases a patient's chance of survival by 10 percent Nolan said. By equipping the drones with an AED, the county hopes that it can increase the survival rate of patients suffering similar medical emergencies from 10-15% to 30%, he said.

Can you elaborate on Nolan's hopes here? If the survival rate is 10-15% and reducing response time by a minute would increase that by 10% to 10.1-16.5%, how do they hope to get a 100-200% increase to their survival rate? Do they believe the drones will be able to reduce response times by significantly more than one minute? Editor's Note: Robert, thank you for your comment and yes, the county expects the drones to reduce response times by significantly more than a minute. In some of the trials, drones arrived up to seven minutes faster than medical personnel. -Danny Ramey, Web Editor

On 11/18/19, Robert said:
Thank you for the quick answer. That is excellent news — six or seven minutes would make a world of difference

On 11/2/19, Paul St-Onge said:
Congratulations on a job well done. One flight closer to BVLOS, helping to save lives by permitting first responders a channel to answer the call. Great collaboration making a difference.

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