A drone that has the potential to saves lives

By Young Wang

Drones are big news, and could soon be used to deliver medical equipment

By Young Wang |

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Augustin Tung and his sister, Junita, test the drone, which can carry medical equipment.

You've watched cool bird's-eye videos of drones soaring over cities and delivering pizzas, but has it occurred to you that the little devices - also known as unmanned aerial vehicles - can be used to save lives, too?

This was the idea that struck Augustin Tung Ho-yin. After seeing the trend first hit the United States more than a year ago, he thought perhaps drones could also be used to carry emergency medical equipment.

Augustin, 18, graduated from La Salle College this year and is now a medical student at Chinese University. He started the pioneer project Doctor Drone nearly a year ago and has since tested the drone, carrying a variety of medical packages, from simple first-aid kits to defibrillators.

"Heart disease is the third leading cause of death in Hong Kong," says Augustin, quoting a local medical survey. "A defibrillator was the first type of equipment I thought the drone could carry."

As much as 14 per cent of those developing cardiac arrest will suffer from ventricular fibrillation - when heart muscle cells fail to pump properly, affecting blood circulation. Without defibrillation, the victim's chances of survival decrease by 7 per cent per minute.

Drones have several key advantages in such a scenario: with a GPS locator, the ability to travel at an average speed of 70km/h, and lighter traffic in the air than on the roads, they can easily get to most areas in Hong Kong.

"Drones would be useful in the countryside, where ambulances can't reach quickly," says Augustin.

"This would greatly reduce the risk of delayed treatment in emergency cases, and has great potential for helping the development of emergency medicine in the future."

He hopes the equipment provided by the drones could be used by anyone, especially those with no medical experience. For example, instructions provided along with the defibrillator would show people how to use it properly.

Augustin's father is a doctor in gastroenterology - the science of the digestive system - and he has always had a passion for medicine.

Augustin co-founded the Joint School Public Health Union in 2010 to encourage students to join the health care industry. He is not alone in this project: he brainstormed ideas with his friends at the union, and his father helped paint a red cross on top of the drone to signify its medical purpose.

His sister, Junita Tung Ka-yan, a 17-year-old Diocesan Girls' School student, worked on the project alongside him.

They talked about the practicalities, such as how easy it would be for someone with no medical training to use the equipment the drone delivered.

Air-borne remote-controlled nurse!
Photo: Franke Tsang/SCMP

After getting their hands on a drone model called the DJI Phantom 3, they ran several test flights.

These took place mostly at the Kai Tak Runway Park and Yau Ma Tei Service Reservoir Rest Garden, due to the open spaces and fewer crowds.

After they'd had enough practice flying the drone with the remote control, Augustin and Junita tried tried to get it to fly with packages, increasing the weight each time.

To Augustin and Junita, Hong Kong is a perfect place for the project. For a start, the city is considered a paradise by drone lovers as air navigation regulations are not very strict.

The other thing is that the drone can travel up to two kilometres, covering a big area in our compact city.

Augustin hopes that drone stations can eventually be set up in country parks, while hospitals could also use them to serve nearby residents.

"We hope to develop a mobile app that can send out GPS coordinates in case of emergency, so a drone can be sent quickly," says Augustin.