The rapid expansion of the drone industry is unprecedented – and now they are helping to save lives in scenarios where seconds count.

The Center for Resuscitation Science at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm recently commissioned an experiment, published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which tested the effectiveness of rapid drone-delivered defibrillators to cardiac arrest sufferers in rural Sweden.

The test drones, carrying a small heart defibrillator weighing less than two pounds featuring an electronic voice that gives instructions on how to use the device, were deployed to the houses of 18 recent cardiac arrest sufferers at the same time and from the same location that ambulances were dispatched. They arrived, on average, 17 minutes faster than the responding ambulances, which is massively significant for cardiac events where response time is strongly and steeply proportional to mortality.

Whilst the drone-delivered devices weren’t used on patients in the preliminary study, the results are "pretty remarkable" and proof that the idea is worth exploring, said Dr. Clyde Yancy, a former American Heart Association president. The test results show "a great potential for saving lives," he said. A follow-up study is already planned for deployment in real-life cardiac arrests.

Cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death worldwide, killing more than 6 million people each year.