Vincenzo Navanteri has been awarded the US$20,000 Prince Alvaro de Orleans-Borbon Grant at the 2nd annual FAI International Drone Conference and Expo in Lausanne, Switzerland over the weekend. Navanteri’s idea of a self-piloting drone ambulance that could carry a single injured passenger at speeds of up to 110 km/h (69 km/h) for distances of up to 150 km (93 mi) certainly fit the theme of this year’s award, “Drones for Humanity.”
Capable of reaching altitudes of 1,000 m (3,280 ft) carrying up to 120 kg (265 lb), the autonomous aero ambulance would boast eight electric-driven propellers, whose batteries would be powered by two gas-driven micro-turbines – each of which would have its own high-speed generator and independent gas storage.
The drone would autonomously ferry passengers to a destination set by GPS coordinates, with an oxygen supply and equipment onboard to monitor the passenger en route. The passenger could also be monitored remotely by human doctors via the drone’s onboard cameras and communication system.
“The drone is intended mainly for rescue and first-aid missions,” says Navanteri, giving the example of, “urgent interventions in remote villages, or where access is temporarily difficult. Anywhere affected by any type of disaster – earthquakes, floods, even nuclear contamination zones.”
The ambulance would be designed with ease of use in mind, to allow non-pilot staff, such as doctors or first-responders in an emergency situation, to be able to use it with minimal training. In addition to evacuating injured people, the drone could also be used to transport medical supplies or foodstuffs.
The $20,000 prize will help Navanteri and his Italian team at engineering company Proger to further develop the self-piloting drone ambulance concept.
“The core of our business is the turbine that creates the electricity to power the drone. So I am happy because it means people actually understand that our technology will help move drones forward, away from simple 20-minute battery-life. I am very happy because it means people understand what we are doing,” says Navanteri, adding, “I didn’t expect to win this award. I have never entered this type of competition – I was lucky and we won!”