Testing the use of drones in supporting emergency medical services in Helsinki

Artikkelikuva: Testing the use of drones in supporting emergency medical services in Helsinki

Electric drones will be tested in the transport of both emergency medical service (EMS) personnel and treatment devices and supplies in collaboration with Helsinki University Hospital (HUS) in spring 2023. These pilots are related to the AiRMOUR project that promotes air mobility innovations and seeks new transport methods for the needs of emergency medical services.

Finnish participants in the project include HUSVTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, the drone technology expert company Robots Expert Finland and the City of Helsinki’s innovation company Forum Virium Helsinki.

Urban mobility is undergoing a change. In densely populated areas, traffic planning has become increasingly difficult, and new solutions are also being sought in the airspace. In order to prepare for this new form of mobility, the European Commission has granted funding to the amount of almost EUR 6 million to the international AiRMOUR project.

“Transporting people with autonomous flying vehicles is not yet commonplace, but we should start preparing for it proactively. This will allow us to take full advantage of the benefits as quickly as possible when the technology and legislation have matured. There are certain situations in which travelling by air is the superior method. In an emergency, it takes several minutes to get a helicopter equipped with a combustion engine ready for operation, whereas a passenger drone is ready in seconds. Sometimes these seconds and minutes can be a matter of life and death – literally,” sums up the AiRMOUR project’s coordinator Petri Mononen from VTT.

In Helsinki, the use of drones will be tested in transporting EMS personnel, medical equipment and materials to a simulated accident scene in spring 2023. The testing will make use of manned and unmanned drones, but it is possible that, for reasons including legal ones, the drones will transport a test dummy instead of EMS personnel. The exact location of the pilots has yet to be specified, but locations that are difficult to access, such as the archipelago, could offer an interesting testing environment, for example.

Drones as part of the EMS service chain?

International studies endorse the use of drones in supporting emergency medical services. The development of urban air mobility makes it possible to reach time-critical patients more quickly, thereby improving their survival prognosis. For example, taking a semi-automatic defibrillator to the patient’s location with the help of the emergency call coordinates is both an efficient and economical solution
based on simulation modelling. The potential benefits of the AiRMOUR project can be considered to include the introduction of a new type of logistical thinking to support emergency medical services.

“There are both densely and sparsely populated urban environments in the area serviced by the Helsinki University Hospital. A new type of aerial vehicle could play a significant role in supporting EMS activity in such areas. Emergency medical services should approach this new dimension as a whole, examining both patient care and logistics while also studying things such as the possibility of forming a situation picture with the help of drones,” says Project Coordinator Tomi Mäkiaho from HUS Emergency Medicine and Services.

For the City of Helsinki, the practical pilots in the AiRMOUR project will bring valuable knowledge on the utilisation of electric aviation in emergency medical services and the changes required by new technologies in local aviation provisions. In-depth discussions are needed with both hospital districts and rescue and aviation authorities in order for drones to be seamlessly incorporated into the service chain.

“In Finland, the EMS and rescue system is excellent as is, but it may be possible to improve the services further at some point – in other words, transport technologies of the future are not coming to compete with the existing ones but to complement them,” Petri Mononen specifies.

In addition to Helsinki, drones will also be tested in Luxembourg, Stavanger in Norway, Hessen in Germany, and Dubai in the Middle East in spring 2023. In two of these places, namely Luxembourg and Dubai, the testing will be carried out as a simulation. However, all of the pilot sites will work in close cooperation with the authorities, hospital districts and other operators in the industry in order for the use of drones to be tested in emergency medical services in the most authentic conditions possible.

Cities need to make quick decisions

Moving into the airspace requires various structural challenges to be resolved, such as issues related to the restrictions of aviation legislation, cyber security, noise, protection of citizens’ privacy privacy and integration of this new mode of transport in existing urban traffic systems. The AiRMOUR project studies and seeks to solve all of these obstacles, being one of the most ambitious projects in the global development of urban air mobility. The project is endorsed by organisations such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the Japan UAS Industrial Development Association (JUIDA), and the Dubai Future Foundation.

The drafting of European legislation on the drone industry is currently progressing rapidly. Unlike in normal air traffic, cities play a key role in the management of their own airspace. This is why it is important for cities to increase their basic understanding of the industry, regardless of whether they decide to handle the management of their airspace themselves or outsource it in the future. With regard to land use in particular, cities should
quickly decide which areas are suitable as drone landing sites. One of the main objectives of the AiRMOUR project is to produce up-to-date information to support decision-making by cities, authorities and other operators.

One of the most significant outputs of this EU project is an air mobility toolkit that will contain land use planning software, among other things. Additionally, a comprehensive training programme will be implemented in collaboration with Eurocontrol to offer concrete support for cities in their transition to new forms of air mobility.

The three-year AiRMOUR project involves 13 partners, of which three are Finnish. In addition to the project’s coordinator, VTT, the other Finnish partners are Robots Expert Finland and Forum Virium Helsinki. The other project partners are the City of Stavanger (Norway), EHang Scandinavia AS (Norway), Hochschule Kempten (Germany), Linköping University (Sweden), LuxMobility (Luxembourg), Norwegian Research Centre AS (Norway), Regionalmanagement Nordhessen (Germany), University Medical Center Groningen (the Netherlands) and the Swedish Transport Administration and Civil Aviation Administration. Funded by Horizon 2020, the project started in January 2021 and will run until December 2023.

Check out the project website: Airmour.eu

Photo: Ehang Scandinavia

Further information:


Renske Martijnse-Hartikka

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