It’s one of the ultimate nightmare scenarios: There’s been a disaster–maybe an earthquake or a terrorist attack–and you’re trapped underneath an immovable pile of rubble. You can barely breathe, let alone scream for help. Many times, these stories end with death. But in the future, first-responders might use a radar device to detect your heartbeat and save you from impending doom.
That device, dubbed Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER), exists today as a prototype. Built by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, FINDER can suss out heartbeats from more than 100 feet away (in open spaces), behind 20 feet of concrete, and under 30 feet of rubble.
It has already proven its worth in over 65 test searches. In one scenario, the device detected an unlucky employee of the DHS Virginia Task Force One under 30-feet of rebar, gravel, and concrete rubble, according to DHS.
Heartbeats are extremely faint under rubble piles, so FINDER features extremely sensitive microwave radar technology that can even distinguish between a human heartbeat and heartbeats from other animals. Nobody wants dogs to be disaster victims, but it’s important for rescuers to prioritize in these kinds of emergencies.
Variations on the technology have been in testing for over a decade; back in 2000, a group of researchers wrote about a microwave radar device that could detect human heartbeats from under 10 feet of rubble. The DHS and NASA version will be ready for commercialization as soon as next year.