Four people were saved from the rubble left by the earthquake in Nepal after they were found by scientists using the Heartbeat Finder. This life-saving device was based on technology NASA developed to help find life living on alien worlds.

The Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (Finder) device was developed through the cooperation of NASA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This is the first time the instrument has been used in the field to detect heartbeats of people trapped after a disaster.  

"The true test of any technology is how well it works in a real-life operational setting. Of course, no one wants disasters to occur, but tools like this are designed to help when our worst nightmares do happen. I am proud that we were able to provide the tools to help rescue these four men," said Reginald Brothers, under secretary for science and technology for the Department of Homeland Security.

Finder employs a continuous beam of microwaves, which are sent through the rubble of a collapsed building or other structure. The instrument can detect the heartbeat or breathing of a human being, and can distinguish those signals from those given off by an animal. The victim, visible to the machine under 20 feet of concrete or 30 feet of general debris, does not have to be conscious for Finder to detect their presence. Their location can also be measured by the machine, to within an accuracy of around 5 feet.

A massive 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, and four days later, a pair of Finders were deployed to that nation to assist search-and-rescue teams in their hunt for survivors.

The four men were discovered underneath as much as 10 feet of debris, including mud and bricks, in the village of Chautara, one of the population centers hardest hit by the powerful earthquake. A pair of victims, lying for days in rubble, were found in each of two locations in the region.

The device can also detect people from up to 100 feet away if there is no debris between the target and the detector. Finder was subject to 65 test searches in June 2013.

"Testing proved successful in locating a VA-TF1 member buried in 30 feet of mixed concrete, rebar, and gravel rubble from a distance of over 30 feet. This capability will complement the current Urban Search and Rescue tools such as canines, listening devices, and video cameras to detect the presence of living victims in rubble," John Price, science and technology program manager for the DHS, said.

Immediately following a disaster, rescue workers strive to find survivors still hidden beneath the debris of buildings. Time is vital in these cases, as recovering injured people soon after they are trapped greatly increases the survival rate and reduces damage and health problems.

Currently, NASA is working to provide Finder to additional rescue teams to assist those trapped in natural or man-made disasters.

Photo: UK Department for International Development | Flickr

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