(CBS) - Researchers in California are developing an autonomous drone ambulance that could help get people to a hospital or out of harm's way in an emergency.
It's technology designed to save lives.
Researchers at Caltech describe this autonomous ambulance as the future of emergency response.
"We're calling it, actually, a personal rescue system," Professor Mory Gharib, projector director, said.
Gharib said the self-flying rescue drone has been in development for three years.
It's designed to rapidly fly a patient to a hospital or rendezvous point with a doctor.
Researchers envision the vehicle transporting people facing medical emergencies like heart attacks or strokes and airlifting injured or trapped victims from hard-to-reach disaster zones including wildfires or flood zones.
"This is basically the hatch door that would open up..."
Sensors inside monitor the patient's vital signs during flight.
With his one-of-a-kind wall, researchers are simulating nearly every weather condition to test how the drone responds. For now, they're using a one-fifth scale model but the actual drone will be the size of a small car and piloted by an artificial intelligence system.
"That can basically negotiate with situations, reason and make the best decision in order to save the life of the person it carries," Prof. Gharib said.
Researchers hope to launch a long-range test of a larger, self-flying model before the end of 2018. They predict a full-sized drone rescue system could be in use within three to five years.
They say batteries powering the drone ambulance should allow the vehicle to fly for up to 20 minutes per trip.