Army getting to heart of the matter

The Army will begin accepting proposals this week for solutions that detect the electronic signal of a beating human heart as far away as 50 feet for urban combat or medical uses.

In May the Army released a request for proposals for "remote sensing of the electro-magnetic potential of the human heart" and will accept contractor submissions July 1 through Aug. 14. The Army expects to award a $70,000 contract in mid-September, said Jeremy McLain, mechanical engineer at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.

The contract will use fiscal 2004 funding, and one vendor will produce a proof-of-principle device during the initial six months. Phase II, which will be worth up to $500,000, will include the development and demonstration of a prototype, McLain said.

The heart has specific electronic signature that a sensor could detect by filtering out other noise and signals. The Army request for proposals lists two possible functions:

* A handheld version for medics in the field to determine the heart rate of a wounded soldier.

* An enhanced version for soldiers in urban combat situations to detect heart signals through walls and other obstructions, which could illustrate how many individuals are in a room that soldiers are about to enter.

The Army expects the system to weigh 5 to 10 pounds with a sensing range of 20 to 50 feet. If that range increases, the heart detection devices could augment other sensing solutions, such as infrared and light amplification sensors. With telescopic sights on small guns and rifles, soldiers could detect a hiding enemy even farther away, according to the request for proposals.

"I've seen a couple of abstracts on it from different sources that would suit medical community and war fighters," McLain said. "Hopefully, it will get to be that precise to detect through walls."

The Army's goal is to have solid prototypes and initial production types by the end of the decade, McLain said. He added that if the solutions were available today, they could aid soldiers' searches of Iraqi palaces or Afghani caves.

George Smith, senior fellow at Globalsecurity.org, which monitors space and military programs, said he was skeptical of the program's potential impact based on the modest funding levels and because this is not a new area of research.

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