A statement from UniSA said the only condition that needed to be met was for the upper torso to be visible. The cameras could pick up movements in the chest cavity that indicated the heart was still beating and breathing was taking place.
Previous systems had relied on changes in skin colour and body temperature.
The leaders of the study, Professor Javaan Chahl of UniSA and Dr Ali Al-Naji of Baghdad, demonstrated in 2017 that a camera on a drone could measure heart and respiratory rates.
Dr Ali Al-Naji of Baghdad's Middle Technical University lying prone on the ground during the research. Supplied
Thermal cameras have also been used in the past, but they are only usable in situations where the temperature between the body and the background differs. Additionally, if the body is wearing insulated clothing, then the unreliability factor tends to increase.
“This study, based on cardiopulmonary motion, is the first of its type and was performed using eight people (four of each gender) and a mannequin, all lying on the ground in different poses,” Prof Chahl said.
“Videos were taken of the subjects in daylight, up to eight metres away, and in relatively low wind conditions for one minute at a time, with the cameras successfully distinguishing between the live bodies and the mannequin.
“This system would be ideal for many situations, including earthquakes and floods, nuclear disasters such as Fukushima, chemical explosions, bio attacks, mass shootings, combat search and rescue or where a plane has crashed in a remote area.”
Prof Chahl said additional tests needed to be done to refine the system for use when weather conditions were adverse and when bodies are partially obscured.
The findings have been published in the journal Remote Sensing.