From small villages with long dirt roads to crowded cities with traffic at a standstill, maneuvering today’s ambulance during an emergency simply may not be an option. But promptly reaching patients to treat them effectively is nonnegotiable.

That’s where the AmbiCycle comes in. An alternative compact transportation device specifically designed to transport patients from the scene to the hospital, it’s about the width of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, nine feet long and has three wheels.

The need

Mark Benden, Ph.D., CPE, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) School of Rural Public Health, and Eric Wilke, M.D., medical director of College Station Texas EMS, began design efforts on the AmbiCycle in summer 2008.

During a volunteer medical trip to Uganda a few months earlier, Dr. Wilke saw a need for an emergency transportation vehicle that could navigate crowded and narrow streets in rural areas.

Ambulances in the US are typically around 13 feet long, eight feet high and struggle to maneuver through congested traffic. These bulky vehicles also face difficulties getting to patients in rural areas fast enough, sometimes taking more than 30 minutes to arrive.

Alternatives to ambulances had been attempted in rural and metropolitan areas but produced major setbacks. Trailers attached to bikes were not safe on modern roads with motorized traffic. Motorcycle sidecars had a width almost equal to a car and were difficult to maneuver.

The concept

After scratching ideas for trailers pulled by a moped or bike, Dr. Wilke and Dr. Benden focused on a vehicle that could offer improved performance compared to trailers and sidecars.

“The AmbiCycle becomes more stable to drive when a patient is loaded,” Dr. Benden said. “All the others have the opposite effect.”

The AmbiCycle is more stable since its compact body allows the driver and patient to be on the same plane and maintain visual contact. This small device is designed to evacuate patients from areas at risk, damaged by storms, and under heavy traffic with inadequate emergency medical services.

“The AmbiCycle is the only patient transport that might make it through gridlocked traffic to get a patient to care during the ‘golden hour,’” Dr. Benden said.

This type of patient transport is an affordable alternative to a full ambulance. While a standard size ambulance costs $75,000, the AmbiCycle target cost is around $5,000. This vehicle gives users the option of either electric or gas power and gets 83 miles per gallon.

The solution

Medical accessories were specifically designed for the AmbiCycle, including helmets, unique litters, backboards and restraints. Patient covers and filtered air options are included in the designs, while high-tech medical monitoring and treatment devices are additional options.

The AmbiCycle isn’t just designed for everyday use, either; 36 can fit onto a single 53-foot trailer, making it ideal for disaster relief. It’s also an option for military wounded soldier transport.

Currently, a commercial prototype of the AmbiCycle has been developed using a platform from Automoto, a California company. This street legal vehicle has three wheels, two of which are in the back. The Automoto vehicle is used as a platform and modified into a prototype of the AmbiCycle.

This vehicle is US patent pending and a fourth generation prototype is currently being evaluated by medics, emergency room doctors and nurses, and multiple international health care organizations, including several in the Middle East, South America and Africa.

“The idea at this point is to produce a scalable, deployable vehicle that can be affordable at purchase and during maintenance. We hope this evacuation solution will save lives all over the developing world,” Dr. Benden said.

— Blair Williamson

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