Saved by a heartbeat

May 11, 2015, 5:58 AM | Updated: 9:14 am
NASA’s FINDER technology was used to help find victims of the recent Nepal earthquake. (AP)...
NASA's FINDER technology was used to help find victims of the recent Nepal earthquake. (AP)

As a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Jim Lux works on technology designed to track distant planets.

“NASA has a long history; we do remote sensing,” Lux said. “We are used to detecting small motions from a long way away.”

But he also heads up a project called “FINDER.”

“With Finder, what we are doing is we are using the same techniques to look for very small motions from your heartbeat at a somewhat shorter distance,” Lux said.
FINDER stands for “Finding Individuals for Disasters and Emergency Response.” It fits into a suitcase and can detect when someone is buried alive under collapsed buildings … by sending out a radar signal.

“It reflects back from the rubble and anybody who is buried in the rubble,” Lux said. “The rubble is not moving but the person who is alive is; they are breathing and their heart is beating and it is making their body move a very small amount. We look for motion that is characteristic of heartbeats.”

In about 30 seconds, by using the distinct signature of the human heartbeat, the machine can show the number of people still alive to a depth of 30 feet. At least that’s what the lab tests showed.

But it wasn’t until the earthquake in Nepal that FINDER got its first real-world test.

Four victims, who had been entombed at two different sites in Nepal &#8212 were detected by FINDER’s rubble-penetrating radar &#8212 and rescued.

For a certain NASA scientist who most days is staring off into space &#8212 that felt pretty good.

“It is one of the most gratifying experiences of my life,” Lux said.

Not a bad day at the office.

Dave Ross on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
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Saved by a heartbeat