A smart idea for connected healthcare

| Environmental Testing

Extensive Millbrook proving ground facilities were used to test the 5G Smart Ambulance

Peter Stoker, Chief Engineer for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles at Millbrook, lifts the lid on the Smart Ambulance project.

The “Smart Ambulance” project is a ground-breaking collaborative effort that could make a real difference to healthcare and society, revolutionising patient treatment and reducing hospital admissions using the connectivity of the future. Here, Peter Stoker of Millbrook explains the project in his own words.

During my time at Millbrook, I’ve had the great pleasure of working on a variety of cutting-edge automotive projects. I’ve witnessed first-hand the ingenuity and innovation that goes into developing the mobility solutions of tomorrow, and I’m always proud of the great work that our team does in facilitating progress in the industry. The recent Smart Ambulance trial that the Millbrook team and I were involved with is a particular highlight, as the project identified solutions that transcend industry and could affect healthcare and society for the better.

The foundations for the Smart Ambulance project were laid in 2018, when Millbrook, as part of a consortium, was awarded a place on the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) 5G testbeds and trials project. Millbrook’s involvement was in the field of 5G for Transport, and this necessitated the building of a hyper dense small cell private network for the purposes of testing use cases in the forthcoming 5G roll out.

In the second stage of the testbed, Telefonica O2 came on board as a provider of use cases for trial, eventually bringing its commercial spectrum onto the testbed. We have remained in close cooperation ever since, and I was delighted to see the benefits of 5G for healthcare included in a recent O2 report on the future of the ‘smart city’.

The Smart Ambulance project itself was a vision of O2’s Wayra academy, which brings together innovative start-ups and their technologies. This group was looking for a location to trial and demonstrate its smart ambulance application, and Millbrook was deemed to be the ideal spot. We soon held a kick-off meeting, where we received a brief from the group, discussed the detail of the trial and its filming, before rounding off with an extensive tour of the facilities and a demonstration of the network on site. Already, momentum was building behind the project, and it was clear it had great potential.

Collaborative Effort

The project was very much a collaborative effort, with a number of participants each bringing their own unique expertise and technology to the table. Those involved were O2 for connectivity, Samsung for the hardware, Visionable for the video link up technology, Launchcloud for the data collection tools, the NHS East of England Stroke telemedicine service, and of course Millbrook as the testbed.

The scenario that we worked on simulated a call out to a victim of an acute ischaemic attack, otherwise known as a stroke. Using a highly connected ambulance, the team of paramedics would be able to connect live with a consultant, who would be able to assess the patient via their live stream of data and high-quality video feed in order to decide the critical next steps. To make this a reality, the project involved equipping a standard ambulance with state-of-the-art devices and connectivity to create a ‘Smart Ambulance’ that simulated 5G connectivity, transforming the vehicle into a unique remote consultation room.

Proving ground trials

This could even involve giving the correct medication at the scene, thus reducing the time delay from ‘symptom to needle’ and giving the patient the best care in the shortest time. The specially equipped ambulance was brought to Millbrook, and we used the newly opened Autonomous Village complex for the trial and filming. One of the offices was turned into ‘Ambulance control’ with the latest Samsung curved monitors, the garage unit became ‘Ambulance dispatch’, and one of our on-site corporate venues were used for the location of emergency and the patient assessment. Of course, the extensive track network at Millbrook was driven by the ambulance, with the pervasive connectivity of the private network ensuring a great connection at high speed and over many types of terrain.

The trial demonstrated the power of a high-fidelity, real-time connection between the paramedic on scene and the specialist in the hospital. It allowed fast and accurate decision making rather than lengthy waits for transport and then triage at the hospital. It is an extension to the landline-based system that the East of England NHS use between their hospitals and remote consultants, taking it out into the field.

The Power of 5G

The trial offered a glimpse into what the technology, devices and services are capable of – and the capability really is quite staggering. O2 estimates that 5G video conferencing could save the NHS 1.1 million hours a year. Consultants could see more patients via video link than in person, maximising their time and streamlining patient care. Paramedics would be empowered to treat more people with more ailments than currently possible, thus further easing the strain on hospital resources. The savings made from the more efficient use of beds and staff could then of course be invested elsewhere.

From my point of view, it was a fascinating trial to be involved in with the team. This was certainly not a ‘normal’ few days at the office working with a traditional automotive customer – which itself involves being at the cutting-edge of industry. This was working with a whole new sector, with new technologies and new ideas. It was especially pleasing that the trial was made possible by the capabilities the new Autoair private network has brought to Millbrook, enabling us to showcase our industry-leading site and demonstrate what a fantastic place Millbrook is to work.

From a wider perspective, though, this is a use case that can make a real difference to society, using the connectivity of the future to change healthcare for the better.

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