Page last updated at 08:54 GMT, Tuesday, 7 April 2009 09:54 UK

New designs for future ambulances

By Anna-Marie Lever
BBC News health reporter


Bond style ejector seats and off road buggies - Royal College of Art designer, Rob Thompson, discusses what our future ambulances may look like

Emergency transport of the future may have ejector seats to launch paramedics quickly into the thick of the action.

They may also be capable of driving off-road, allowing access to remote areas of the country, and expandable treatment areas providing 360 degree access to the patient.

New designs showing the possible future for the UK's ambulances have been unveiled at the Royal College of Art (RCA), London.

The concepts are the result of a two year project called Healthcare on the 'Move: The Smart Pods Project', funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

On the spot treatment

RCA designer Rob Thompson told BBC News: "Up to 50% of people who dial 999 in an emergency could be treated at home by a rare breed of paramedic, an Emergency Care Practitioner (ECP).

The Shell concept for ambulance design
A detachable shell allows for x-ray or screening procedures

"They have been trained with the skills needed to treat and diagnose a patient on scene rather than run them to hospital."

The idea of emergency on-the-spot community treatment was introduced by the government in 2001. However, experts say research into new technologies needed to support this new role is still lagging.

Mr Thompson continues: "We are looking at enabling technologies to help ECPs do their job."

One such design is called the shell concept. It has a removable 'shell' that can slide off the main vehicle to create an expanded treatment space, or left on the scene for extended periods of time.

The shell is interchangeable and can provide X-ray, screening and immunisation ability.

James Bond-style seats

Of the six models on display, some are more radical than others.

Mr Thompson explains: "Whilst some of the models you can imagine on the roads very soon, others are much more extreme.

"The autocare concept is an example of a blue-sky project. The core essence of this vehicle design is speed it is engineered to drive as fast off-road as on road.

"Once on the scene an ejector type seat is activated to launch the paramedic, with all the kit and equipment they need, into the thick of the action."

Labybird concept for ambulance design
The ladybird concept - equipped with an expanding treatment tent

Other proposals include a soft continuous silicone interior which morphs to the shape of the patient and allows for infection control as well as a deployable tent allowing 360 degree access to patients.

"What these projects demonstrate is the range of possible future directions for the next generation of ambulance.

"We think with the right funding this project could deliver a testable vehicle within the next four years," says Mr Thompson.

The Smart Pods Project is open at the RCA for two days from 7th April.

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