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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Technology Note

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber reports on how pilots in the cockpit might one day be identified by their heartbeat.


CURWOOD: Just ahead: Hope for rare Asian tigers in the back country of Thailand. First, this Environmental Technology Note from Cynthia Graber.

GRABER: In the wake of September 11th, there's been a lot of talk about how to improve airline security and, in particular, how to keep terrorists from hijacking an aircraft and crashing it into a target. The answer to one question could help. How could air traffic controllers make sure the person in the pilot seat is actually the pilot? Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology say they may have an answer. You see, many things about humans are distinct--our fingerprints, our irises, our voice patterns, even the patterns of our heartbeats. And the Georgia Tech techies say they can recognize heart beat patterns, using radio waves. They came up with this idea during the 1996 Olympics, in Atlanta. They wanted to collect information about the heartbeats of athletes who won gold medals. Of course, they couldn't hook up sensors and wires to athletes during competition, so they developed a radar device, using low level radio waves, that would detect heart movements as small as half a millimeter from about 100 feet away. With such a device placed in the cockpit, the signal could then be transmitted to the air traffic controller coordinating the flight. More research is needed to see if the recognition holds up as people age, or when they're in traumatic situations such as a hijacking. If research on this technology continues, there may be an easy and safe way to know exactly who's sitting behind the controls. That's this week's Technology Note. I'm Cynthia Graber.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.



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