When natural disasters strike and the damage is dealt, often the wisest thing to do is to rescue any remaining survivors from the rubble. Yet many times, victims die after never being found underneath several feet of damaged materials, from either being too weak to cry out for help, or too far to be detected by our current technology. However, that is all about to change, as NASA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are very close to developing a device that can detect a faint heartbeat under several feet of strata — up to 20 feet of solid and 30 of other crushed material, to be exact.
The two government entities are working in tandem to create the device, called FINDER, or Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response, for use in finding individuals who are still alive after a major disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes and tornados. FINDER prototypes were tested in over 65 simulated disasters by two Urban Search and Rescue teams, with great success. The portable device is capable of detecting a heartbeat up to 100 feet away when out in the open, and is able to penetrate concrete, rebar and other types of material as well.
Previously, radar waves directed at wreckage would bounce right back after being sent, which resulted in inaccurate test results. Another challenge of creating a successful life-tracking device was the difficulty of isolating a weak sound like a heartbeat within louder noise interference in the rescue field. FINDER utilizes microwave radar technology specially developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to not only distinguish between loud interference and softer sounds, but also between species: the device can amazingly tell if the heartbeat belongs to a squirrel or a human. Who knew microwaves could become even more useful?
Although tests of the first FINDER prototype were overwhelmingly positive, DHS and JPL plan to refine it further before officially introducing it out into the field, where it will accompany its trusty canine team and preexisting listening devices and video cameras. The two agencies are striving to make a final form of FINDER that will eliminate the need for the other devices via built-in antennas, a radar unit and digital processing and an even smaller size in a USB interface.