Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Science Technology

Device Sniffs Out Signs of Life After Disasters 48

MTorrice writes "With every breath, people exhale a plume of chemicals. Now German researchers have developed a method to quickly and easily detect this chemical signature of life with a portable device. The team hopes that the approach can help firefighters and other first responders find people trapped inside rubble after earthquakes, terrorist attacks, or other calamities."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Device Sniffs Out Signs of Life After Disasters

Comments Filter:
  • by James McGuigan ( 852772 ) on Friday January 11, 2013 @12:45AM (#42555057) Homepage

    Had to do a double take on that one, my first reading was

    "Device Snuffs Out Signs of Life After Disasters"

  • Dogs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by asmkm22 ( 1902712 ) on Friday January 11, 2013 @12:48AM (#42555087)

    I've always thought dogs did a really great job of that.

    • by skine ( 1524819 )

      Well, yes. But dogs tend to have the downside of needing constant care and dying.

      Of course, until they surpass dogs' ability to sniff out scents, they should, at best, be used as a supplement to and not as a replacement for them.

      • by skine ( 1524819 )

        On second though, electronic devices need constant care and they die.

        The costs involved are significantly less, though.

    • I agree that dogs do great job. However trained dogs are expensive and they have a time limit.

      Back on topic, I was involved in design electronics and algorithms of chemical detector useful for military/security forces. Right now I am involved in design of device that would detect certain diseases. We used nanomaterial and I believe it does great job. It provides great sensitivity and helps package everything in a small 3 inch box.

      IANAC, could anybody explain me whether the technology used in the device

      • I don't know anything about your method - "nanomaterial" is quite a wide range of chemicals, really.

        Their approach seems to be an incremental improvement on tried and tested analytical methodology - I mean, GC's have been here for ages, they are the best separation technique there is for robust applications.

        The "ion mobility spectrometry" part seems to me like a secondary separation-based analysis. GC lets you separate analytes by molecular weight (in similar groups of chemicals - eg alkanes), and polarity/

      • As someone who was once training a dog for SAR, I can tell you that most SAR (and cadaver) dogs are handled by volunteers so they are completely free (at least as far as the taxpayer is concerned). There are a ton of volunteer SAR organizations in the US.

        Dogs do have a time limit but so do their handlers. It's pretty much a given that you're going to have to swap out teams for a truly long duration search. That's not going to be any different if you're using a device.

        That said, the main benefit of a devi

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Lots of reasons why. Dogs are great but not perfect.

      1) Convenience of mass production means greater deployment compared to the high time and cost of training dogs along with maintenance basically means cheaper costs and greater numbers
      2) Deployment ability, devices are very easy to bring along and can be kept on all vehicles for standby, you can't exactly do that with dogs. It would also be easier for transportation like say extras are needed for a big emergency.
      3) Durability/Downtime, devices can be fixed

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        2) Deployment ability, devices are very easy to bring along and can be kept on all vehicles for standby, you can't exactly do that with dogs. It would also be easier for transportation like say extras are needed for a big emergency.

        While it's possible to have the equipment standby always, it's a lot harder to deploy them because their range of omtions is much more limited than a dog.

        Highly agile dogs can really get in and around rubble with such ease and relative safety moreso than electronic equipment.


    • In that case, I'm going to start marketing an "Acme Emergency Disaster Locator Kit." You use it to smear bacon grease all over yourself. Every dog for miles around will find you.

  • Scan the debris for life-signs.
    Sir, we've detected the stench of several human survivors... From the smell, French I'd say... Eh, Jean Luc?
    Intriguing, there is a 87.391% probability the remains are of a cargo ship;
    The wreckage seems to be covered in some form of condiment,
    and the flames are producing an odor signature similar to pork barbe--
    That's ENOUGH, Data!

    • by jonadab ( 583620 )
      You little life forms, you pretty little life forms, precious little life forms, where are you? Doo doo doot doot doot doot doo.

      I just love scanning for life forms!
  • With every breath, people exhale a plume of chemicals

    Finally something good about halitosis.That's bad news for Listerine...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2013 @02:10AM (#42555403)

    ..and for locating insurgents hiding in warzones, or stowaways...
    not all the uses of this technology are good

    • by Chrisq ( 894406 )

      ..and for locating insurgents hiding in warzones, or stowaways... not all the uses of this technology are good

      Of course not all is good, but what's wrong with finding stow-aways (could be a Muslim with a bomb) or locating insurgents hiding. Unless you are a pacifist discovering enemies who may later attack from behind the lines (saboteurs, snipers, etc.) is a legitimate aim.

    • Why was this modded down? This is quite the most insightful comment here. Oh, AC mentioned Jews, that's why.

      • Why was it modded down? Probably because the mod was tired of the rampant tinfoil hat paranoia and the tendency to leap directly to the downsides so prevalent here on Slashdot.

  • Funding. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Friday January 11, 2013 @03:03AM (#42555527)

    Cynically, I think that adding 'terrorist attack' to the list might just be to greatly aid the chances of getting some sweet, sweet government money. Earthquakes and simular natural disasters achieve an annual victim count that outnumbers terrorist attacks by a few orders of magnitude, but governments seem so much more eager to publicly spend money on counter-terrorism.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <> on Friday January 11, 2013 @03:08AM (#42555547) Journal

    Could something along the lines of a millimeter wave radar detect a heartbeat through rubble, or under snow after an avalanche, perhaps?


    • Not sure about the radar, but snow jackets and pants will sometimes have a built-in Recco reflector [] specifically for ease of victim location after an avalanche.

  • Ford: "So, we got ourselves a life-signs detector."

    Sheppard: "We can name it later."

  • "Life signs have been detected, sir."
  • Once Skynet becomes self-aware, this is one of the first devices that it will take possession of.

e-credibility: the non-guaranteeable likelihood that the electronic data you're seeing is genuine rather than somebody's made-up crap. - Karl Lehenbauer