Lightweight portable sensor will find a person under any rubble

After natural disasters - especially earthquakes - it is very important to quickly find survivors under the rubble. A team of researchers from the Swiss Higher Technical School (ETH, Zurich), led by Professor Pratsinis, has developed a simple, inexpensive device that will help in the search for surviving victims of the disaster.

Currently, rescuers use specially trained dogs or acoustic probes for such searches. However, dogs are limited in number and not always available, and probes are useless when it comes to unconscious people. There are also systems that respond to human-made chemicals, but they are very expensive and very cumbersome.

The device with five sensors, developed in Switzerland, is very compact - so that it fits in the hand and can be easily mounted on a drone. Three sensors are responsible for detecting specific chemicals exhaled by victims or released through the skin - acetone, ammonia and isoprene. Two other sensors record the level of humidity and CO 2, which are also markers of the close presence of a person.

During laboratory tests, participants were placed in plethysmographic chambers (plethysmography is the process of identifying the size and volume of any part of the human body and body) to simulate a blockage. The sensor array was able to detect the aforementioned chemicals at a concentration of three in a billion, unprecedented for a portable detector.

Scientists are now planning to move tests from the laboratory to real-life natural disasters.