This Drone Could Save Lives by Detecting Heartbeat and Breathing Rate

Australian researchers have developed a drone that can analyze vital signs from up to 9 feet away by detecting and analyzing visual cues.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Researchers at the University of South Australia have developed a drone that remotely measures your heartbeat and breathing rate. Naturally, this would be a huge boon to the medical field, as the unmanned aerial vehicles could be stationed in hospitals, clinics, and even on the battlefield. Drones are increasingly relieving all sorts of industries from a lack of personnel, and the medical field is one that could benefit the most, regarding the value of life.

The drones use video footage measure vital signs, researchers explain. The project was inspired by the search for something more elegant than connecting sensors to patients, which quite often led to infections in newborn babies in developing countries. With these UAVs, which can analyze a patient from up to 9 feet away, that risk is vanquished entirely. 

Robotics lecturer at Imperial College London, Ravi Vaidyanathan, describes this development as “fascinating,” and is highly keen on pushing this technology forward. 

He explains that “It seems to be a clever application of technology that is already around and is something that will be very welcome in remote places where there is a need for information on health. If a drone can do it without contact, that is potentially game-changing.” 

We've reported on healthcare-related drones in the past, such as the defibrillator drone in Sweden, or most recently, the Matternet drone in Switzerland. But let's dive into how exactly these UAVs would potentially help people and analyze their vital signs, shall we?

The BBC reports that the system developed at the University of South Australia has the drone analyze a patient’s face and neck. These heart and breathing-related areas allow the drone to spot irregularities, and presumably feed that data back to a main hub. While it can currently detect vitals from up to 9 feet, that number is expected to rise as development continues. 

“The drone will single out each person automatically and provide a trace for each individual as to where their heart rate and breathing rate is,” project supervisor, Professor Javaan Chahl told the BBC. Besides aiding hospitals that may not have enough human resources to monitor patients 24/7, this technology could obviously aid in helping people in war zones, where sending in medics could risk further lives. By sending in a drone like this, one could get a more accurate read on how many wounded soldiers are breathing regularly versus how many are close to death, and therefore requiring more immediate attention.

“A lot of environments are hostile, so a drone is the safest option. Places like the ocean require drones in order to gain access to people in trouble quickly and safely,” Chahl told the BBC