Connected ambulance demonstrator

The Health Living Lab at Westcott is a planned development that will house a range of communications technology integrated in demonstrator ambulances and care pathways more broadly.

The aim of the Living Lab is to create a changeable environment where organisations can test new ideas and ways of working within the healthcare sector, to enable the development of diagnostic and communications products and services. The Health Living Lab will be a space for developing new services and capabilities for healthcare pathways enabled by connectivity (satellite and terrestrial) with a focus on keeping people out of hospitals and A&E.

As a pilot to the Health Living Lab development, and alongside NHS Arden & GEM CSU, the Satellite Applications Catapult has purchased and renovated an ambulance, adding both satellite and terrestrial communications technology throughout, with support from Excelerate Technology. The ambulance is located at Westcott Venture Park, alongside the Catapult’s 5G Step-Out Centre.

Several different satellite terminals are deployed on the roof of the ambulance to provide connectivity to rural areas or locations where there is poor coverage from cellular networks, as satellite communications can provide truly global coverage. Each satellite terminal deployed on the ambulance differs in throughput capabilities and data plans, and aims to target different end-user demands and requirements while considering connectivity and cost. Additionally, through integrating a blend of terrestrial and satellite communications, a hybrid solution is in place that seamlessly utilises the best communications solution (or a combination of solutions) depending on the importance or size of the data that is needed at the scene of an incident.

The ambulance has novel 4G antenna system that can track the best 4G signal, improving coverage and data rate, and is 4G emergency services ready. The 5G connectivity is complementary to the 4G, offering much greater bandwidths that connected ambulances will need in the future. Terrestrial communications are ideal for urban areas, with 4G offering voice and some data and the 5G networks offering further opportunities, such as multiple HD camera feeds, IoT (Internet of Things) inventory management and the ability for the use of high definition scanning equipment to be used at the scene.

WiFi is also incorporated into the ambulance to provide a hotspot bubble of connectivity within range of the vehicle. This could be used, for example, when attending an incident and requiring connectivity from inside a patient’s home or outside at a distance away from the ambulance, allowing patients to be assessed and treated without the need to move them.

As mentioned previously, all communication terminals can be used simultaneously or prioritised by data rate or cost, automatically. This is via Communications Bonding software that is capable of prioritising and optimising data to ensure essential information is sent to paramedics and NHS staff more quickly, without loss of quality and with no user intervention.

The integrations are being followed by a series of evaluations on the performance of each terminal and equipment option, in terms of data throughput, cost, power consumption and weight, in order to create a menu of options based on performance of each factor and prices. This will be used within the future Health Living Lab to allow partners to define a customised environment for their project and produce a cost/benefit analysis; for example, a configuration for high speed transfer of data in one setting for an autonomous system, and large amounts of data in another setting for video streaming to hospitals.

Additional technology will continue to be considered for new adaptions and enhancements to the Health Living Lab offering, with the end goal of having a facility that offers trials as a service and a development environment for health and social care communications solutions.