NASA’s New Heartbeat Sensor Could Save Lives

The portable device uses radar technology to find people trapped beneath rubble

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Bill Ingalls / NASA
Bill Ingalls / NASA

Virginia Task Force 1 team members demonstrate the prototype technology called Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) at the team's training facility, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013 in Lorton, Va.

A new tool from NASA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security could help emergency responders locate victims following major disasters.

The portable device, Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER), tracks the heartbeat and breathing of people trapped in up to 30 feet of rubble and debris or up to 20 feet of solid concrete. The device was demonstrated for the first time to members of the media on Wednesday at a Homeland Security training facility in Virginia. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will begin testing it next year.

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Jim Lux, JPL Task Manager for FINDER, discusses the prototype technology called Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) during a demonstration of the device at the Virginia Task Force 1 Training Facility, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013 in Lorton, Va.

Bill Ingalls / NASA

FINDER uses remote-sensing radar technology developed by NASA’s ┬áCalifornia-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to monitor spacecraft locations for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. FINDER beams microwave radar signals into areas of disaster and debris to analyze patterns of breathing and heartbeat signals that bounce back.

Though the prototype is still being tested, the underlying radar technology is not new. NASA’s Deep Space Network — as well as scientific researchers — frequently uses similar technology to measure the distance of spacecraft, but JPL’s latest development uses advanced algorithms to distinguish tiny signals from a person’s moving chest from other signals such as trees or animals.

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Virginia Task Force 1 team members demonstrate the prototype technology called Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) at the team’s training facility, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013 in Lorton, Va.

Bill Ingalls / NASA