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Red laser in the dark

Pentagon tool reads ‘cardiac signature’ to identify people at range

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According to a report from MIT Technology Review, the Pentagon has developed a laser tool which can identify people of interest from their unique heartbeat.

Everybody has a unique ‘cardiac signature’, which – unlike facial or fingerprint-based forms of biometric identification – cannot be altered or disguised by any means. A cardiac signature also remains constant.

The technology was requested by the US Special Forces and has been named ‘Jetson’. It uses a technique called laser vibrometry in order to track surface movement on the skin caused by a heartbeat. Jetson is based on an off-the-shelf device for measuring small vibrations at long range, such as on the outer surface of a wind turbine. A gimbal was added such that an invisible laser spot could be fixed on a still target. The tool is combined with algorithms capable of extracting a cardiac signature from the data.

While this movement is very subtle, the tool allowed for tracking from up to 200m away. The tool works when the target is wearing lightweight or medium-weight clothing, but not when they are wearing thicker garments such as a coat. It also requires the target to remain still for approximately half a minute while data is collected.

Using a stronger laser could allow for it to be used over longer distances, the engineers behind the device said: “I don’t want to say you could do it from space, but longer ranges should be possible,” said Steward Remaly, who works at the Pentagon’s Combatting Terrorism Technical Support Office, speaking to MIT Technology Review.

Under ideal conditions, the tool has over 95 per cent accuracy and would likely be used in combination with other biometric identification methods, such as facial recognition, in order to identify, track and target people of interest. The US Army Advanced Research Labs have outlined a future in which connected devices – such as wearables, exoskeletons, long-range identification tools and autonomous weapons – could operate together in an ‘Internet of Battlefield Things’.

Jetson could also have applications outside surveillance and defence. For instance, clinicians could use the tool to monitor the heartbeat of patients from a distance.

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