Price estimate for a custom drone

Hey everyone,

I am student working with a group that is looking into developing ambulance drones similar to the one at TU Delft. Here is an article if you are not familiar with it. We hope these drones will improve the survival rate of cardiac arrest victims. We are trying to figure out what kind of parts we would need to build a drone similar to that in the article and develop a price estimate of how much it would cost.
Unfortunately none of us know much about drones or even where to begin researching a drone of this quality. I understand that this community is focused on DIY budget drones, but I was hoping that some community members here might have knowledge about higher quality drones or know where I can find such information.
The drone we are looking into should travel be able to travel at 100 km/hr, have a connectivity range of at least 20-25 km, and have a battery that lasts for around an hour. It needs to be able to function as an AED as well. Does anyone have any ideas as to how much a drone of this quality would cost?
On a different note, does anyone have any insight as to what the best autopilot system for this application would be? It would have to be very reliable.
I appreciate any help that anyone can provide.
Matthew Alongi

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  • Hi Mathew,

    I'm really surprised that there isn't more response to this question, but since I found it intriguing and I've been working on a quadcopter with capabilities similar to your requirements (except for the 100 km/hr speed) I'll help you best I can.

    First off, what you're looking for can be done. Obviously the drone in the video is a shining example of the capabilities you're in need of. However, I highly recommend you find someone locally who has at least basic RC experience as there is so much for you to learn and many, many stumbling blocks that will cost you time and money to push through. Having a team member with even experience building any type of RC aircraft will help you immeasurably.

    I've been building a long endurance (1 hour plus, with 3.5 lb payload) X4 quadcopter to fly beyond line of sight (LOS). I'm not sure where you're located, but if you're in the USA, flying beyond LOS is illegal, you'll have to look into the legality as it pertains to your location on your own. I've followed the build log of Ferdinand Kickinger.  You should check it out and look at the budget setup. There are also commercialized drones out there, like the steadidrone that will carry the weight you're looking for and fly for more than 45 mins. The easiest way to do it would be to fly a third party AED (the lightest one you can find) to the patient/victim and incorporate a payload release mechanism once on scene to drop the AED. As far as the long range, beyond LOS capabilities I suggest looking into the Dragonlink. They claim their system will work up to 30 KM and reviews I've seen and read online support this claim, but I haven't been able to test this myself yet. There are other long range systems and I suggest getting an antenna tracker with a yagi (or better) transmitter antenna (tx). Then, of course there is the code writing involved in putting together a system that will track someone's cell phone in order to find the victim. If you get GPS coordinates from a first responder, or the ambulance substation, you could easily command the drone to fly to the coordinates and land with any APM flight controller. Programming is something I have zero experience with.

    This should help point you in the right direction. Oh, and for a price estimate, if you build it yourself and did something comparable to the ferdinand kickinger drone AND don't destroy anything in the testing process, you could be under $5,000 pretty easily. That does not include any of the cell phone tracking programming I mentioned above, but that would give you a flying, GPS/waypoint controlled, X4 quad copter with whichever long range (Dragonlink or otherwise) TX/RX you'd like and a first person video (FPV) system. Hope this helps!

    • Thanks for the excellent reply Isaac! This is immensely helpful. We're going to have to factor in the AED cost as well so we will end up closer to the price estimate of the drone in the article, but it's good to hear from someone else that's knowledgable about drones that this is possible.

      We are actually based in Sweden where the drone regulations are actually pretty light and it is certainly possible to fly drones around the city.

      I appreciate all the effort you put into this response.

  • I would think, in peacetime, you'd still want a manned machine to show up for the patient. The aircrew isn't just there to pilot the helicopter, but to manage the people who invariably show up when one lands, or at least it'll keep the curious back a little further than if it was an unmanned bird.

    I think the "killer app" for an ambulance drone will be patient extraction in dangerous areas, where you'd otherwise be risking the aircrews' lives. Examples would be "hot" radioactive areas, combat zones, ongoing natural disasters, etc.

  • "The drone we are looking into should travel be able to travel at 100 km/hr, have a connectivity range of at least 20-25 km, and have a battery that lasts for around an hour. It needs to be able to function as an AED as well. "

    This is way beyond current technology. Most flight times for quadcopters these days are 10-15 minutes. You don't see much beyond 30 minutes, and certainly not while flying at 100 km/hr and carrying an AED. I'm not sure of the capabilities of the drone in video, but I suspect they were not nearly that good. 

    A big thing you should think about before you do this is how to safely land a quadcopter with props that are spinning at 5,000 rpm in the middle of a public area or an area where it does not know of any potential obstacles. The real world is a messy place for computers. 

    Good luck!

    • I appreciate your feedback!

      The specifications I mentioned in the post are actually the specifications of the drones mentioned in the article. I am not sure about battery life, but after looking into some higher quality drones 1 hour seemed possible. Although it may be very expensive.

      I am guessing that a quadcopter is the typical DIY type of drone. I do not know much about drone types but I am assuming for this task we will need a different type. I am still waiting on a response from the student who is leading development of the drone in the article.

      I appreciate the safety feedback, we are trying to save lives with this project and not endanger them :P

      Thanks again for your response!

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