Researchers developing drone ambulances

(CBS News) - It's technology designed to save lives.

Researchers at CalTech describe an autonomous ambulance as the future of emergency response.

"We're calling it actually a personal rescue system," says Professor Mory Gharib.

Gharib says the self-flying rescue drone has been in development for two 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.

Sensors inside monitor the patient's vital signs during flight.

With a one of a kind wall, researchers are simulating nearly every weather condition to test how the drone responds. For now, they're using a 1/5th 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," Gharib says.

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.