Nepal earthquake sees 4 saved with heart-seeking satellite

7 May 2015

The Nepal earthquake rescue effort received a major technological boost after NASA’s FINDER satellite was recruited to help find four people trapped beneath rubble with heart-seeking technology.

According to NASA, its staff was able to use newly-developed search-and-rescue technology with the help of two prototype Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) satellites that use microwave-radar technology to detect the heartbeats of victims trapped in wreckage.

Search and rescue teams on the ground were then able to access the imagery being relayed from the satellite to pinpoint where exactly any potential survivors may be, which, in this case, was able to locate four men from the village of Chautara who had been stuck beneath rubble for days.

FINDER can see under 30ft of rubble

Using the FINDER satellites, they were able to detect two heartbeats beneath each of two different collapsed structures, allowing the rescue workers to find and save the men.

During initial demonstrations, FINDER had been shown to be capable of detecting people buried under up to 30ft (9m) of rubble, hidden behind 20ft (6m) of solid concrete, and from a distant of 100ft (30.5m) in open spaces.

To aid in its ability to detect, a ‘locator’ feature was added to not only provide search and rescue responders with confirmation of a heartbeat, but also the approximate location of trapped individuals within about five feet, depending on the type of rubble.

Jim Lux, task manager for the FINDER project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said of the mission’s success: “It’s very gratifying to see technology developed at JPL being used to save lives.”

Rescue efforts in Nepal image via UK Department for International Development/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic