The prototype technology, called Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response, or FINDER, can locate individuals buried as deep as nine meters in crushed materials, hidden behind six meters of solid concrete, and from a distance of about 30 meters in open spaces.
"FINDER is bringing NASA technology that explores other planets to the effort to save lives on ours," Mason Peck, chief technologist for NASA and principal advisor on technology policy and programmes, said in a statement.
John Price, programme manager for the First Responders Group in Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate, said the ultimate goal of FINDER is to help emergency responders efficiently rescue victims of disasters.
"The technology has the potential to quickly identify the presence of living victims, allowing rescue workers to more precisely deploy their limited resources," Price said.
The device works by beaming microwave radar signals into the piles of debris and analysing the patterns of signals that bounce back, a radar technology regularly used by NASA's Deep Space Network to locate spacecraft.
The device can detect heartbeats and breathing patterns of the survivors.
"We also verify that the breathing and heartbeat are consistent with a human, so we don't detect small animals or some mechanical device like a pendulum," Lux said.