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NASA and Homeland Security testing radar for tracking disaster victims

Last Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 15:36

Washington: NASA along with the US Department of Homeland Security are reportedly working together on developing a first-of-its-kind portable radar device to trace disaster struck victims by detecting their heartbeats and breathing patterns when trapped under piles of rubble.

The prototype technology, called Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) can locate individuals buried as deep as 30 feet in crushed materials, hidden behind 20 feet of solid concrete, and from a distance of 100 feet in open spaces.

FINDER is based on remote-sensing radar technology developed by NASA`s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., to monitor the location of spacecraft JPL manages for NASA`s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

"FINDER is bringing NASA technology that explores other planets to the effort to save lives on ours," said Mason Peck, chief technologist for NASA, and principal advisor on technology policy and programs. "This is a prime example of intergovernmental collaboration and expertise that has a direct benefit to the American taxpayer."

The technology works by beaming microwave radar signals into the piles of debris and analyzing the patterns of signals that bounce back. NASA`s Deep Space Network regularly uses similar radar technology to locate spacecraft. A light wave is sent to a spacecraft, and the time it takes for the signal to get back reveals how far away the spacecraft is.

"Detecting small motions from the victim`s heartbeat and breathing from a distance uses the same kind of signal processing as detecting the small changes in motion of spacecraft like Cassini as it orbits Saturn," said James Lux, task manager for FINDER at JPL.

In disaster scenarios, the use of radar signals can be particularly complex. Earthquakes and tornadoes produce twisted and shattered wreckage, such that any radar signals bouncing back from these piles are tangled and hard to decipher. JPL`s expertise in data processing helped with this challenge. Advanced algorithms isolate the tiny signals from a person`s moving chest by filtering out other signals, such as those from moving trees and animals.(


First Published: Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 15:36

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