Sniffer dogs and fiber optic cameras may soon be getting some assistance, when it comes to locating people trapped beneath debris. The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate has joined forces with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to create a microwave radar-based system known as Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response – or FINDER. The new technology is able to detect a human heartbeat buried up to 30 feet (9 meters) under assorted rubble.

FINDER is also capable of detecting the heartbeat of a person standing behind 20 feet (6 m) of solid concrete, or who is up to 100 feet (30.5 m) away in an open area.

It does so using "advanced data processing systems" developed by JPL. These allow the relatively weak signal of a heartbeat to stand out amongst the noisy radar signals that are reflected back by the chaotic jumble of debris.

The FINDER user interface (Photo: Paul Wedig)

FINDER has already been successfully trialed on over 65 occasions at test search sites, in which volunteers were hidden beneath a mixture of concrete, steel rebar and gravel.

The current portable prototype consists mainly of a compact sensing module, antenna, radar electronics, processor and user interface. It has a battery life of approximately 14 hours. It is hoped that a commercial version, which may be available as soon as next spring (Northern Hemisphere), will be able to more precisely pinpoint the location of buried disaster victims.

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