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FINDER detects heartbeats beneath 30 feet of rubble


September 11, 2013

The FINDER system (lower right, in photo) being tested at the Fairfax County Fire Department training center in Virginia (Photo: Stacey Levitt)

The FINDER system (lower right, in photo) being tested at the Fairfax County Fire Department training center in Virginia (Photo: Stacey Levitt)

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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.

Source: Homeland Security

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

It's similar to the life signs detector in Stargate Atlantis.

Anthony Parkerwood

Scanning for life signs. I thought that sci-fi trope sounded crazy, but now it's coming true. Pardon the tin foil hat, but this is scary. I guess it's because DHS is involved.

How much technology, that was designed for 'good' use, gets weaponized? Or, is it possible that the 'good' use is just a cover for the 'bad' reason for the development?

Orwell was a little early, but the world of 1984 is coming into focus. It can see a person behind 20 feet of concrete? You can run, but you can't hide.


Um, I would bet this could be used to detect people through walls in a house, building, ship, aircraft, trees or just about any kind of structure that wasn't rubble as well. Big brother aside it's looking like the Tricorder is just around the corner.

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