A start-up called Flirtey delivers pizzas, Slurpees and other sundries by drone. But now the company is embarking on lifesaving work as a medical courier in the U.S.
Flirtey has formed a partnership with REMSA Health, a provider of ambulance and emergency health services in the state of Nevada. Flirtey and REMSA plan to dispatch a drone to deliver a portable defibrillator whenever a 911 caller in the area reports symptoms of cardiac arrest.
J.W. Hodge, REMSA's chief of operations for health care, said they hope to reach patients in less time than it would take an ambulance to cut through traffic.
"Many communities have done a good job of deploying defibrillators, so you will have them on airplanes, in some office buildings and schools and so on. Yet they're not always within reach. At the same time, every minute someone suffers cardiac arrest without some intervention like CPR or an electrical shock, their chance of survival dips 10 percent."
Cardiac arrest, according to the American Heart Association, is the leading natural cause of death each year in the U.S., affecting more than 350,000 people every year.
Flirtey CEO and founder Matthew Sweeny said portable defibrillators, which weigh about 5 pounds, can be used by anyone and require no medical training.
After a drone lowers a defibrillator on a line, a bystander will be able to unbox it and apply the pads inside to a patient's chest. The pads contain sensors that read what's happening with a patient's heart, and the system determines whether the patient needs an electrical shock. The defibrillator can either prompt a user to press a button or automatically deliver a shock after a brief warning.
The drones will launch from stores that are owned and operated by Flirtey's commercial clients and health partners. Flirtey previously struck deals with Domino's, 7-Eleven and Napa Auto Parts, among others, to deliver orders to customers in the U.S. and New Zealand.
REMSA and Flirtey are working with local regulators in Nevada and targeting a start date in early 2018 for defibrillator deliveries.
"We're starting in Northern Nevada because the state is an FAA-approved drone test site," Sweeny said.
Flirtey is not the only one working on medical drone systems.
A large hospital group in Switzerland has partnered with drone start-up Matternet to transport samples between labs and clinics. And UPS-backed Zipline has established a drone network in Rwanda to deliver blood to clinics that are hard to reach by road.