This US military laser can identify people by their heartbeats from 650 feet away

Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy/US Air National GuardUS military personnel with laser sights
  • The Pentagon has developed an infrared laser that can identify a person’s unique cardiac signature up to 200 meters away, the MIT Technology Review reported Thursday.
  • The laser prototype, known as Jetson, measures surface vibrations caused by the heartbeat at a distance, and under the right conditions, this technology can achieve a positive identification 95 per cent of the time.
  • There are limitations, such as the inability to penetrate thick clothing, the need for a cardiac signature database, and the inability to get a read on moving targets, but cardiac identification could be used to support other biometric identification methods.
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Just as everyone has unique fingerprints, everyone also has a unique heartbeat, and that concept is crucial to the US military’s newest identification device.

The Department of Defence, at the request of US special operations forces, used this principle to develop an infrared laser that can identify enemy combatants from a distance by reading their cardiac signature, the MIT Technology Review reported Thursday, citing Pentagon officials.

Jetson, as the US military’s new device is called, uses laser vibrometry (non-contact vibration measurements) to detect surface movement caused by a person’s heartbeat. The device is an extension of existing technology, such as already available equipment for measuring vibrations in distant structures like wind turbines.

The laser is reportedly able to penetrate clothing and achieve a positive identification roughly 95 per cent of the time from up to 200 meters away, or about 650 feet, and there is the real possibility that the range could be extended.

“I don’t want to say you could do it from space, but longer ranges should be possible.” Steward Remaly, a defence official in the Pentagon’s Combatting Terrorism Technical Support Office, told MIT Technology Review.

This technology is still in its early stages. The laser device can’t penetrate thick clothing and the person must be sitting or standing in one place for it to work. It takes about 30 seconds to get a reading.

And then there is a need for the creation of a cardiac signature database.

Current limitations aside, cardiac identification is joining a number of different biometric identification methods ranging from facial recognition to retinal scans, many of which play a role in people’s everyday lives. For example, many smart phones offer fingerprint and voice identification security measures.

While Jetson, an Ideal Innovations Inc. product, is far from perfect, cardiac identification offers some advantages over some of the traditional biometric identification methods. For instance, a person’s cardiac signature cannot be modified as a person’s face or fingerprints can.

The Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office suggested two years ago that this technology could be combined with other identification technologies, explaining, “Being able to measure unique cardiac signatures obtained from an individual at a distance provides additional biometric identification when environmental conditions and changes in facial appearance hinder use of a facial recognition system.”

The office stressed that very simple changes to a person’s appearance, such as beards, sunglasses, or headwear, can render existing long-range biometric identification tools useless, but masking a person’s cardiac signature is much more difficult.

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