Follow Your Heart: Darpa’s Quest to Find You by Your Heartbeat

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Mon Nov 21 04:56:50 PST 2011

Follow Your Heart: Darpabs Quest to Find You by Your Heartbeat

By Adam Rawnsley | November 18, 2011  | 2:00 pm  | Categories: DarpaWatch

The U.S. military can see you breathing on the other side of that wall. It
can even see your heartbeat racing while you crouch behind the door. But if
you think running farther away or hiding in a crowd will make you invisible
to the Defense Departmentbs sensors, you might be in for a surprise. The
Pentagonbs geeks are looking to tweak their life-form finder so they can spot
your tell-tale heart no matter what you do.

Darpa, the Pentagonbs mad-science shop, announced last week that itbs looking
to improve on technologies that sniff out biometric signatures like
heartbeats from behind walls. Dubbed bBiometrics-at-a-distance,b the program
seeks to build sensors that can remotely identify humans from farther away
and tell them apart in a crowd.

Seeing or bsensingb human life through walls can be a pretty helpful trick.
For troops that have to clear houses in search of terrorists or insurgents,
itbs always nice to know whatbs on the other side of that door. Picking up
blife-form readingsb may sound like science fiction straight out of Star
Trek, but the Defense Department has been able to do it for years now.

In 2006, Darpa developed Radar Scope,which used radar waves to sense through
walls and detect the movements associated with respiration. A year later, the
Army invested in LifeReader, a system using Doppler radar to find heartbeats.
More recently, the militarybs been using devices like the AN/PPS-26 STTW
(bSense Through the Wallb) and TiaLinxbs Eagle scanner, which can sense the
presence of humans and animals through walls.

Handy though these gadgets may be, Darpa wants to one-up them with some new
and better capabilities.

First off, Darpa wants its biometric device to be able to work from farther
away. Right now, it says the accuracy of most systems taps out at around
eight meters. And while some see-through devices can see through up to eight
inches of concrete, they donbt do as well in locations with more or thicker
walls. So Darpabs looking for the next system to push that range past 10
meters, particularly in cluttered urban areas.

Finding humans hiding in a particular room is nice, but being able to tell
them apart is even better. Like your fingerprints, irises and even your
veins, your heartbeat can be a unique biometric calling card to distinguish
you in a crowd. Darpabs hoping its sensor can capitalize on this by using
electrocardiography b the analysis of the heartbs electrical activity b to
identify and track up to 10 different individuals.

But donbt be too scared of Darpabs heart hunter. There are plenty of
non-terrifying applications that the Pentagonbs geek shop envisions for the
device. For instance, being able to sniff out life signs at longer distances
and behind thick concrete slabs could be very useful in disaster scenarios.
In the aftermath of an earthquake, rescue workers could use Darpabs
longer-range biometric sensors to find survivors trapped under rubble.

Photo: bludgeoner86/Flickr 

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