Medi-Man — The New Superhero In Town
UK paramedics are set to use jet-packs in remote areas, but are they safe? What about human error? Could AI make for a stronger caped crusader?
Batman, Iron Man, Spider-Man…the old-school lot. They can all knock back their whisky sours, grab their capes from the cloakroom, and share a taxi home. Because a new superhero just rocked up at the party and it’s all eyes on him.
Say hi to Medi-Man, taking a rare night off from whooshing across fields, over lakes, and up mountains, intrepidly defying gravity to rescue injured damsels in distress.
Ok, let’s put all the overt superhero sexism to bed — because the caped cohort can rescue damoiseaux in distress too, you know — and get on with the blog. Medi-Man does exist though (sort of), flying right into the headlines at the end of summer. You may have guessed I’m chatting about Richard Browning, inventor of a new jet-suit for use by paramedics in remote areas.
With two mini engines on each arm and one on the back, allowing paramedics to control their movement just by moving their hands, experts say the jet-suit could revolutionise the delivery of emergency healthcare in locations off the beaten track.
Browning, who founded aeronautical company Gravity Industries in March 2017 to pioneer a “new era in human flight,” recently trialled his creation in the UK’s hilly Lake District, and the results of the “groundbreaking exercise” (or should we say, groundshunning exercise) were astounding.
As you’ll see in the footage below, gripping scenes of the inventor putting the jet-suit through its paces look as if they’ve been plucked straight from a superhero movie.
But nope, what we see in the video is just plain old reality. And it could lead to paramedics — often encumbered by heavy equipment beyond their standard medical kit, including ventilators and defibrillators — reaching casualty sites in a fraction of the time it would take by air ambulance or by car and then foot.
On top of that, unlike most of the caped crusaders inhabiting the crowded DC and Marvel universes, the superheroes in this world can be women too!
Though, as impressive as this edge-of-the-seat jet-pack business is, and as many lives as it will likely save, I can’t help but wonder about the scope in it all for accidents caused by human error.
Sure, anyone operating the technology will go through rigorous training to maximise safety, and they’ll be more padded out than the bulging abs of a quality costume-shop Superman. And they’ll also keep some 3 to 6 metres off the ground. For this reason, Browning argues:
“It is very safe, you only go to a height where, if you fell, you would be able to recover; it would not be a terrible injury.”
So, we’re hardly talking about the sky-scraping stuff of films like Iron Man and Green Lantern here — even if the suits are technically capable of reaching altitudes of over 3,500 metres.
But, all this aside, it’s not totally unknown for cautious, well-trained professionals kitted out in protective gear to make harmful, or even fatal, mistakes with dangerous tech. We hear about this sort of thing happening in, say, factories all the time. As with almost all areas of life, we’re not without risk here.
Before ambulance service bosses go ahead and green-light the mainstream use of Browning’s pioneering brainchild, and it’s plausible they will, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a terrible idea to look into alternatives powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
One of the key arguments in favour of self-driving vehicles, for example, is a probable reduction in the number of accidents caused by human error — although this claim is disputed by many a critic.
The first ever fatal driverless car crash was actually brought about by its “safety driver,” who, even though tasked by Uber to “monitor the driving environment and the operation of the vehicle,” was streaming an episode of The Voice on her phone at the time of the crash.
Why, then, shouldn’t we also consider allowing AI to take control in the context of remote medicine delivery in this way? An autonomous jet-suit could achieve the same ends just as well as, or better than, Browning’s human-controlled version — only, with a potentially lower likelihood of injury or death to the operator owing to their own mistakes.
I’m not suggesting, for a single minute, that an airborne paramedic would be so foolish as to devour an episode of some addictive reality show while attempting to navigate tricky crags, overhangs, and peaks — and sometimes in inclement weather.
But could they easily find themselves startled by a passing bird coming out of nowhere, or in the path of tumbling rocks? Yes! We also have to think about other unknown variables outside of the paramedics’ control, such as sudden health problems. Browning himself says:
“All the maneuverability comes down to…human balance and coordination.”
Such hazards would be to the jet-suit operator what careless cyclists or wandering children are to a traditional driver: almost certainly devastating!
That said, could sensors like those already fitted on autonomous vehicles, or even more advanced sensors currently under consideration by the world’s driverless tech leaders, help airborne paramedics account for the element of surprise and avoid such hazards? Yes!
As it stands, the suit isn’t quite ready for roll-out, with Gravity Industries still collecting data, making tweaks, and maximising user safety. Browning also admits his firm is:
“Just scratching the surface in terms of what is possible to achieve with [their] technology.”
So, I’d be shocked if the prospective contribution of AI to future iterations hadn’t entered his mind.
I’m incredibly excited to watch the shape this tech takes in coming years. Maybe I’m wrong, and I won’t see any incorporation of AI at all. However it pans out, one thing’s for sure: the welcome arrival of Medi-Man on the scene is one of the better surprises we’ve been treated to in an otherwise brutal 2020!