Student to test if drone can help in mountain rescues

Aberdeen University's Sophie Barrack builds prototype, which she will test to see if it can carry medical equipment.

Student to test if drone can help in mountain rescues
Research: Sophie Barrack is an Aberdeen University student and outdoors enthusiast.

A medical student is researching whether a drone can provide aid to hillwalkers in an emergency.

Aberdeen University’s Sophie Barrack built a prototype, which she will test to see if it can carry the weight of medical equipment.

The project follows a survey, which she sent to mountain rescue volunteers and NHS professionals, canvassing opinion on the potential use of drones in a remote emergency.

More than 80% of respondents said they thought drones could be used in Scottish healthcare, 73.5% thought they could be used in emergency healthcare and 71.4% thought they could be used in a remote and rural setting.

When asked what a healthcare drone should carry, the top two answers were medication and medical equipment.

Medication could include items such as pain killers, insulin, an EpiPen or fluids.

Examples of equipment included glucose testing tools, tourniquets, dressings, catheters, oxygen and defibrillators.

Sophie, 23, from Auchterarder, said: “My main interest was in finding out whether healthcare and mountain rescue workers thought a drone could be used to deliver essential medication and equipment in remote areas, which – according to my survey – they do.

“I then wanted to get a rough idea of a ‘top five things’ that such a drone should have in their opinions.

Project: Sophie Barrack working on her drone.
Project: Sophie Barrack working on her drone.

“The building of the drone was a bit of an afterthought but if nothing else it adds a physical element to the project which can hopefully kickstart discussions, as well as giving us an idea as to how big and powerful a drone would be required.

“Drones have been used to locate missing people in remote areas, so it would be great to explore if they could be used for delivering small amounts of medication or equipment to climbers or walkers in trouble quickly while a mountain rescue team attempts to reach them.

“Mountain Rescue and other related services are still absolutely crucial, but if there was a way to get some initial aid to the patient quickly, could that potentially lead to better outcomes? These are the kinds of questions I am interested in.”

Search and Rescue Aerial Association Scotland formally joined Scottish Mountain Rescue in 2018. The team use drones in the search for missing persons but not to deliver equipment or resources.

A test project using powerful drones to fly urgent medical samples from isolated Scottish islands is being expanded this winter following successful trials.

Drones are already being used to deliver blood for transfusions and some other products in Rwanda and Ghana.

Sophie’s drone does not have the necessary range to reach people in remote areas but she hopes to establish whether or not it could carry the necessary weight of medical equipment and still fly accurately in a range of Scottish weather conditions.

Sophie’s lecturer, Dr Heather Morgan, added: “It was really exciting to work with Sophie because we both shared an ambition to take this project beyond the background desk research into existing drones for health around the globe.

“Being an applied health scientist, and tech enthusiast, I was keen to support Sophie’s desire to explore Scottish opinions through the survey and to act on the results.

“Creating the prototype was a lot of fun and we’ve already discussed how this project might influence further studies and developments with NHS stakeholders.”