The ambulance of the future may not have a driver

Ambulances (old style). Image: Getty.

The revolution in driverless vehicles will make many jobs obsolete. In the US alone, it is estimated that driverless vehicles will wipe out 4.1m jobs. Truck drivers, delivery drivers, taxi drivers and Uber drivers will be out of work, and sooner than you might think.

But automation can be a force for good, doing jobs more cheaply, safely and efficiently. In fact, there’s one service that’s crying out for more automation: the ambulance service.

Demand for ambulance services is growing rapidly in developed countries due to a combination of a growing and ageing population, an increase of chronic diseases, and a scarcity of primary care clinics and providers. This leaves the emergency services overburdened, with a dismal outlook for the future.

With driverless vehicles already on the road, some governments are looking into the possibility of driverless ambulances. Driverless ambulances and other technology could take some of the strain off the emergency services, freeing paramedics to deal with high-risk patients where each minute waiting for treatment significantly reduces a patient’s chance of surviving. This would include cardiac arrest patients, where brain damage typically starts within four to six minutes.

Initially, health services could introduce a fleet of driverless ambulances alongside their current manned models to deal with low-risk patients – essentially starting out as “medical taxis”. Low-risk patients would be picked up by a driverless ambulance and transported to the nearest hospital or clinic for treatment. With the introduction of these ambulances, the need for paramedics to respond to every call – regardless of severity – would be greatly reduced.

However, not everyone is in favour of automated ambulances. One survey of just over 1,000 people in the US found that around half said they would be comfortable riding in one.

Supported by drones

As well as delivering Amazon packages, spying on neighbours and conducting military strikes, drones could also be used by health services to take the pressure off the ambulance service. They would be especially useful for delivering medical equipment to remote locations. In fact, a start-up called Zipline is already successfully delivering blood and medicine across Rwanda.

But these services could also be used in developed countries. For example, if a doctor in a remote rural location has to treat a patient with a rare condition, but she lacks the necessary medical supplies at her GP clinic or local hospital, a drone could deliver the supplies. Alternatively, drones could be used to deliver vital medical equipment to a drop point prior to the manned ambulance’s arrival. This would allow the patient to be treated as soon as the paramedics arrive.

Drones could also be used to transport specialised equipment, medication or even blood products between hospitals. This would reduce the need for ambulances to drive further distances to find somewhere that can treat their patient.


Predicting emergencies

For several years, police forces around the world have been using sophisticated algorithms to predict areas where crime is most likely to occur. This allows police departments to deploy officers to areas of “high demand”. While these Minority Report-style systems have proven to be controversial, a similar system that predicts illness hotspots is less likely to raise eyebrows.

Such a system could be used by ambulance services. It would collect previous trip data from the ambulances (both manned and unmanned). The software would take into consideration the time of year, weather, public events (such as concerts and protests), populations (such as elderly or deprived) and past emergencies that ambulances have responded to. This would enable the driverless ambulances to locate themselves within high-risk areas when they are not in use, allowing them to respond much faster to calls.

As these systems log more and more information, they will become increasingly more accurate at predicting medical emergencies, in the same way that data mining tools, used by social media and advertising companies, get better at figuring out what food, clothes, movies and so on you like best, and what you might like in the future.

The ConversationThese new methods may seem far off, but depending on how fast healthcare systems invest and adopt these technologies, they could be changing the way we receive medical treatment within decades. In the face of ever rising demand, technology is likely to be the saviour of ambulance services, making it faster, more effective and safer. However, it may take a while before the public are comfortable with the idea.

Keegan Shepard is a PhD Candidate at Edge Hill University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

On Walter Benjamin, and the “Arcades Project”

Passage Verdue, Paris. Image: LPLT/Wikimedia Commons.

In 1940 a small group of refugees were turned away at the French-Spanish border. Having fled the Nazi invasion of France, they hoped to find safety in Spain. One of their number, a German-Jewish philosopher and writer, intended to have travelled onwards to America, where he would certainly be safe. So distraught was he by the refusal he met at the border that he took his own life.

The writer in question was Walter Benjamin, the prominent critical theorist who has contributed so much to our understanding of urban society, and he died with a manuscript close at hand. When asked previously if the briefcase of notes was really necessary to a man fleeing for his life he had replied, “I cannot risk losing it. It must be saved. It is more important than I am.”

The work that Benjamin died protecting was the Arcades Project. It was to be his magnus opus, intended by the author to illuminate the contradictions of modern city life. But it was never finished.

To Benjamin, the subject of the work, the arcades of Paris, were relics of a past social order, where consumerism ruled. The arcades were a precursor to the modern mall, lined with all sorts of shops, cafes and other establishments where visitors could buy into the good life. The area between these two lines of businesses was covered with glass and metal roofs, much like a conservatory: it gave visitors the high street feel in an intimate, sheltered and well-lit setting. You can still find examples of such places in modern London in the Burlington and Piccadilly arcades, both off Piccadilly.

Such arcades proved hugely popular, spreading across Europe’s capitals as the 19th century progressed. By Benjamin’s time, though, his type of shopping area was losing custom to the fancy department stores, and in Paris many of them had been obliterated in Haussmann’s city reforms of the 1850s and ‘60s. Whereas Parisians could once visit 300 arcades, now only 30 remain.

Through his research Benjamin started to see the arcades as representative of a pivotal moment in social history: the point when society became focused on consumption over production. Buying the latest fad product was just an opium, he thought, dulling senses to the true nature of the world. By bringing light to this, he hoped to wake people up from the consumerism of the 19th Century and bring forth some kind of socialist utopia.


He also warned that this shiny veneer of progress was hiding the true state of things. Instead, he revered crusty old cities like contemporary Marseilles and Moscow, where social life was more honest. In this way, Benjamin contributed to the intellectual movement focused on stripping away the excess of revivalism, standing alongside architects such as Le Corbusier. 

Through his newspaper essays throughout the first half of the 20th Century, Benjamin also became one of the first thinkers to focus on urban isolation. His suggestion that we can be most alone when among such a dense mass of other people is something many in modern cities would sympathise with. His work wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, as he saw cities as our salvation, too: laboratories from where society’s problems can be worked out.

It was 2000 before an English translation of the unfinished the Arcades Project was published, but by then the work had already had a significant impact. Just as he stood on the shoulders of giants such as Baudelaire and the Surrealists, modern thinkers have drawn on his work. Benjamin's concerns about common architectural forms can be seen to inspire modern architects such as Laurie Hawkinson, Steven Holl, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

The city of Paris itself was as much a part of the Arcade Project’s inspiration for Benjamin as was his intellectual predecessors. In his letters he repeats that it felt “more like home” than Berlin, and his days were spent marvelling at how the old and the modern exist together on the Parisian streets.

How groundbreaking the Arcades Project really was is hard to say. The fact it wasn’t finished certainly scuppered Benjamin’s plans to wake society up from its consumerist slumber, but that doesn’t make the work inconsequential. His fairytale of steel and glass is as much about the relationship between its author and Paris as it is a theoretical work. By putting the city as the main subject in human’s social history he laid the groundwork for future generations of thinkers.

Benjamin was lost to the tragic tide of the 20th century history, and his death marked the end of the project which could have changed the way we think of the urban landscape. Even if you shy away from the grandiose or don’t buy into his promises of socialist utopia, reading the work can still offer some eclectic factoids about 19th century France. At any rate, it must be acknowledged that the man gave his life to the betterment of society and the cities in which we live.