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(From left) Theodore McGary, Johnson Mphofe, Alexander Larson
(From left) Theodore McGary, Johnson Mphofe, Alexander Larson

Capstone 2019 Highlight: Ambulance Drone for Overdose Response

Capstone 2019 Highlight: Ambulance Drone for Overdose Response
Department: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Team: Alexander Larson, Theodore McGary, Johnson Mphofe
Advisers: Robert H. Klenke, Ph.D.; Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D.
Sponsor: U.S. Army Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate


A Capstone Design team is designing a drone that can deliver — and administer — a lifesaving injection to a person in the early stages of an opioid overdose.

Naloxone, a medication sold under the brand names Evzio and Narcan, can rapidly reverse opioid overdose. Administering naloxone quickly is key to its effectiveness. But what if emergency services are unable to respond in time? Ambulances in congested metropolitan areas are frequently hampered by traffic. In remote rural areas, it can take more than 30 minutes to reach the nearest hospital.

This Capstone team is prototyping a specialty drone that can receive requests and travel to an emergency location without the slowdowns of street traffic. When it arrives, the drone can inject naloxone into a muscle or just under the skin via a rapid autoinjector that can penetrate clothing. Their drone has a camera so medical professionals can guide the injection in real time. The device is meant to complement -- not replace -- emergency services by keeping the patient alive until first responders are on the scene.

The team weighed many design decisions, including how large or small the aircraft should be. A bigger drone can include more features, but a smaller one goes faster. Their current prototype is 1.5 feet long and can reach 60 miles per hour.

Visitors to the April 26, 2019, Capstone Design Expo will get to examine the drone and see its injection feature in action. Also on display will be a professionally produced video showing the drone in flight at VCU’s unmanned aerial vehicles testing ground.