In April 2015, a prototype known as FINDER, NASA’s long-range heartbeat detector was used to find and save four men under ten feet of rubble in Nepal. A month later, an improved version of the detector was tested by Virginia Task Force one. NASA is banking on hopes of using the technology in outer space and in hospital emergency rooms on the planet.

The technology behind the detector has been around for quite some time. It relies on microwave radar signals to detect motion by analyzing the resulting patterns that arise when signals bounce off an object.

The preliminaries of this technique have been used by the Deep Space Network since 2005 to track the Cassini satellite as it orbits Saturn.

FINDER, short of Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response, is a result of a bizarre alliance. Albeit in 2012, NASA’s revolutionary research wing, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, founded by John Parsons, and the Department of Homeland Security teamed up to use the technology for a more noble cause, i.e. disaster relief.

FINDER, roughly the size of a suitcase, can detect infinitesimal motions generated by breathing or the heart beating, from meters away. In open space, it can detect these motions from a distance of 30 meters. Although, when it comes to crushed debris, the distance is abated to a mere nine meters.


NASA believes this could just be a beginning of the possible used of the FINDER. Eventually, it’s going to be in space, among the stars and galaxies.

Jim Lux, task manager for the FINDER project, in an interview said that NASA is banking on previous learnings to create technology for space applications. FINDER can be used to monitor an astronaut’s respiration system and heartbeat without contact. The pioneering space agency will no longer have to hook up wires to monitor someone floating in the space stations.

FINDER’s next official trial is going to take place in a relatively controlled environment in Virginia. The version that will be put to test in Virginia is going to be much more advanced compared to the prototype that was used in April to save Earthquake victims in Nepal. Advanced tech in the FINDER detector includes the ability to limit the detection range, so that emergency responders can get accustomed to the area that they’ve set foot in.

The medical applications of these detector are endless too. It can be used as a diagnostic tool in hospitals and disaster struck areas where medical professionals are low in numbers. For example, in measuring a patient, without having to look in a hospital emergency room.

As of now, much work remains to be done to improve the detector and fine-tune its signal analysis abilities. Lux reminds us that in a matter of three years, FINDER detector went from being a proposal to a working prototype, thanks to speedy developments that mandated such huge developments.