Space-enabled 5G to keep ambulance crews connected
With the support of ESA and the UK Space Agency, Cardiff-based Excelerate Technology and its consortium are working with the NHS to create a prototype digital, connected ambulance.
The project – called Hybrid Connex Digital Ambulance of the Future – aims to use converged terrestrial and satellite networks to underpin technology that keeps paramedics continuously connected, even when in remote and rural areas.
This could enable ambulances to function as remote consultation rooms, greatly improving patient care. Using space-enabled connectivity, paramedics could access medical records quickly and contact other healthcare specialists to support the provision of rapid medical interventions when on the move.
The project supports the development of numerous new healthcare technologies and applications. Internet of things sensors, for example, that transmit vital information to hospitals could help healthcare staff to prepare for patient arrivals and make adjustments should their conditions change.
It also aims to streamline how medical devices in ambulances operate. Currently, each of these devices often uses a different SIM card to stay connected, which is confusing, costly and requires the management of multiple contracts. As part of the project’s development phase, specialised communications technology will be used to solve this problem, so that devices can be managed more efficiently.
Alongside Excelerate Technology, the project consortium includes NHS technology champions NHS Arden & Greater East Midlands Commissioning Support Unit, network provider Vodafone, the Satellite Applications Catapult and specialist technology company Livewire Digital.
The prototypes will be tested at the Satellite Applications Catapult’s Future Networks Development Centre in Westcott, Buckinghamshire, where Vodafone is upgrading its network coverage to facilitate research and development.
They will also be showcased at ESA’s 5G/6G Hub, which is based at the agency’s European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications at Harwell Campus in the UK.
ESA is supporting the project through its 5G/6G Strategic Programme Line, which is part of the agency’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES).
Bethan Evans, Operations Director at Excelerate Technology, said: “We are delighted to be the prime partner in this exciting technology initiative, which aims to create the blueprint for the fully connected digital ambulance of the future”.
“We believe this will be a genuine and significant game-changer in the way ambulance services will be able to provide the majority of care to patients without unnecessary conveyance to emergency departments, while providing a whole range of new on-the-spot services such as diagnostic procedures, tests, diagnostic imaging and greater use of technology to enable specialists located remotely to treat patients immediately through telemedicine.”
Harshbir Sangha, Director of Growth at the UK Space Agency, said: “We’re working to make sure the benefits of space are felt here on Earth. UK companies are helping to solve global connectivity issues by delivering the next generation of 5G solutions, using satellite technology to support terrestrial networks and secure reliable connections in rural and remote locations.
“With our support, this innovative project is working with the NHS to improve healthcare, helping ambulance and emergency services run more efficiently, enhance patient care, and relieve pressure on hospitals.”
Antonio Franchi, Head of ESA’s 5G/6G strategic programme line, said: “Hybrid Connex will offer a fully managed Hybrid Communications as a Service cloud-based solution that will provide ambulances and other emergency services, along with mission critical verticals with fast, hybrid satellite, 5G and 4G fully optimised connectivity wherever the vehicle is deployed. This demonstrates how the ARTES 5G/6G Strategic Programme supports very innovative technology solutions while having a significant societal impact.”