NASA FINDER equipment locates trapped victims of the recent Mexico earthquake

It never ceases to amaze me to see what NASA space technology product spinoffs can do for humanity here on Earth. One excellent example recently was the NASA ‘Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response’ (FINDER) used to help locate trapped victims in collapsed buildings after the recent 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Mexico on September 19, 2017.

This amazing technology evolved from JPL’s design in develop low-cost, small spacecraft radios, using signal processing that could measure small changes in spacecraft motion such as in the case of CASSINI when it orbited Saturn recently. See my Planet Analog blog, NASA Cassini spacecraft crashes into Saturn: A failure or a calculated success?.

Disaster relief workers search frantically for survivors under the rubble and some of them may be alive, but unconscious. Enter the NASA FINDER that can sense a human heartbeat, even for survivors that are unconscious, but alive. Time is of the essence here and locating victims quickly can be the difference between life and death for many.

NASA's FINDER at work in the field (Image courtesy of NASA)

NASA’s FINDER at work in the field (Image courtesy of NASA)

FINDER is the size of a suitcase and is possible due to the joint efforts of NASA Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL) in Pasadena, CA and the US Department of Homeland Security. This device was also used in 2015 after a major earthquake in Nepal and it found four men trapped under ten feet of brick, mud and wood from a collapsed textile factory.

The device sends a low-power microwave signal, kind of like a CW RADAR signal in the order of a 3.2 GHz, and searches for reflected signals coming from small movements like a human heartbeat or a person breathing. Tests have shown that FINDER can detect a heartbeat through 20 feet of concrete or even 30 feet of rubble.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth tech view of what makes FINDER work in my upcoming EDN article.

3 comments on “NASA FINDER equipment locates trapped victims of the recent Mexico earthquake

  1. jimlux
    October 6, 2017

    FINDER is a CW radar operating at about 3.2 GHz – it's not pulsed at all.  It's a narrow band homodyne detector.  

    It also won't detect *through* 20 feet of concrete – although it has been tested through 30 feet of mixed concrete, rebar, and debris.


  2. Steve Taranovich
    October 6, 2017

    @jimlux—NASA has stated that in tests, FINDER has detected heartbeats through 30 feet of rubble or 20 feet of solid concrete. 

  3. Steve Taranovich
    October 7, 2017

    I stand corrected—- FINDER RADAR is CW— I will correct the text— Thanks Jim!

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