New Gizmo Helps Rescuers Detect Heartbeats in Rubble

NASA device uses radar to pick up on signs of life
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 28, 2013 8:23 AM CDT
File photo of rescue workers searching for survivors in the rubble of a collapsed hotel in Van, Turkey.   (AP Photo/Bertan Ayduk)

(Newser) – NASA engineers have dreamed up and built a new device that could help rescuers save lots more lives after earthquakes or other disasters: It's essentially a radar gun that detects heartbeats under heaps of concrete and steel, reports Red Orbit. The FINDER device is portable at 20 pounds, and its microwaves penetrate rubble to pick up on the slightest of movements—even the breathing of an unconscious victim. But it's also smart enough to distinguish the breathing of a human from say, a rat, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, which developed the device with the Department of Homeland Security.

The LA Times explains the process: "Unlike the rubble, the victim is actually moving rhythmically. The chest rises and falls as the victim breathes, and moves from heartbeats—and the head moves as the veins on the scalp fill and empty out." That movement "creates slight differences in timing when the waves bounce back, which the device can pick up." Tests this week in Virginia at a simulated disaster area went well, reports National Geographic, though it quotes one specialist as saying the device needs to provide information faster. After more tweaks, the FINDER is expected to be on the market next spring or summer for about $10,000. Another potential use cited by JPL: finding a kid lost in the woods. (Click to read about how an earthquake in Pakistan this week created a new island.)

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