A couple years ago, NASA and DHS unveiled a portable radar unit based on technology used to monitor spacecraft. This radar unit, though, would be used closer to home—to find people burried under rubble. In the first real-world demonstration of its use, the device helped save 4 men trapped under earthquake rubble in Nepal.

After the earthquake hit, rescuers in the village of Chautara got two prototype units of the device called FINDER, or Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response. The core of the device is a system that bounces microwaves around to “see.” Crucially, it can discern faint heartbeats and breaths in people buried under several feet of rubble.

In this case, FINDER was apparently able to detect the heartbeats of two men each in two different collapsed buildings. The men had been trapped for days, under as much as 10 feet of rubble.

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The details of the rescues are otherwise scant, so it’s hard to say exactly what would have happened without FINDER. Still, it shows the FINDER works out in the field and not just in controlled test situations. We hear about the potential in new technologies all the time—with FINDER, some of that potential just became reality.

This article has been corrected with the original use of the radar system.

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[NASA]

Top image via AP; FINDER image via NASA JPL


Contact the author at sarah@gizmodo.com.