WASHINGTON, Sept. 25 (Xinhua) -- U.S. space agency NASA and the Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday that they have teamed up to develop a portable radar device capable of detecting the heartbeats and breathing patterns of disaster victims trapped in large piles of rubble.
The prototype technology, called Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response, or FINDER, can locate individuals buried as deep as 30 feet (about 9 meters) in crushed materials, hidden behind 20 feet (about 6 meters) of solid concrete, and from a distance of 100 feet (about 30 meters) in open spaces.
"FINDER is bringing NASA technology that explores other planets to the effort to save lives on ours," Mason Peck, chief technologist for NASA and principal advisor on technology policy and programs, said in a statement.
John Price, program manager for the First Responders Group in Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate, said the ultimate goal of FINDER is to help emergency responders efficiently rescue victims of disasters.
"The technology has the potential to quickly identify the presence of living victims, allowing rescue workers to more precisely deploy their limited resources," Price said.
The device works by beaming microwave radar signals into the piles of debris and analyzing the patterns of signals that bounce back, a radar technology regularly used by NASA's Deep Space Network to locate spacecraft.
"FINDER illuminates the search area with a low power microwave signal, and looks for the small changes in the reflection caused by the victim's body surfaces moving from breathing and heartbeats, " James Lux, task manager for FINDER at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Xinhua.
"We also verify that the breathing and heartbeat are consistent with a human, so we don't detect small animals or some mechanical device like a pendulum," Lux said.
He described FINDER as being a complement to other search techniques but noted that it doesn't replace listening devices, search dogs, or skilled human searchers who can interpret subtle signs at the disaster site.
According to Lux, the existing field prototype is "fairly close " to what can be produced commercially and could be commercially available by spring 2014.
"Based on very preliminary estimates, we believe that a price near 10,000 U.S. dollars is possible," he added.