Radar technology that can detect heartbeats in rubble

September 30, 2013

Researchers tested the Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) prototype technology — which can locate individuals buried in disasters — at the Virginia Task Force 1 Training Facility in Lorton, VA (credit: DHS/John Price)

A new radar-based technology named Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) can detect a heartbeat of a human buried beneath 30 feet (9 meters) of crushed material

Developed  by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it can also detect people hidden behind 20 feet (6 meters) of solid concrete, and from a distance of 100 feet (30 meters) in open space.

JPL uses advanced data processing systems to pick out faint signals. The microwave radar technology is sensitive enough to distinguish the unique signature of a human’s breathing pattern and heartbeat from that of other living creatures, such as rats. That allows first responders to quickly ascertain if a living human is present in the debris.

In June, DHS and first responders used a prototype of this system to conduct more than 65 test searches with two Urban Search and Rescue teams.

James Lux, task manager for the FINDER project at JPL, says the researchers plan to install FINDER on proposed search and rescue robots, such as JPL’s Urbie, and on stretchers or ambulances to monitor a patient’s heartbeat. They can also be useful in biology research to distinguish species.

When natural disasters or human-made catastrophes topple buildings, search and rescue teams immediately set out to find victims trapped beneath the wreckage. During these missions, time is imperative, and the ability to quickly detect living victims greatly increases the chances of rescue and survival.