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Predicting Earthquakes and Saving Lives--With Smartphones

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Staffers monitor incoming data as part of an earthquake early warning system.

The California Integrated Seismic Network's Early Warning System was used during an earthquake drill held in Los Angeles in March

Credit: BBC News

California Institute of Technology researchers have created an app called CrowdShake that provides early earthquake warnings by converting a smartphone's accelerometer into a seismometer.

"In the Pasadena area, which is a relatively small community--it's hardly 10km across--we have hundreds and hundreds of volunteers that we give a very small low-cost accelerometer to, it's actually a seismometer," says Richard Guy, who manages Caltech's Community Seismic Network. The seismometers plug into a PC or router, and pick up vibrations caused by tremors. However, the device's cost and the failure of some volunteers to install the software presented obstacles, so the group sought an application that required no hardware to purchase or maintain.

"The accelerometer is already in the phone, the location is something the phone knows, it's not something that a person has to tell it," Guy notes. "And of course your smartphone knows exactly what time it is."

The accelerometer serves as a sensor gathering vibration data, which is analyzed and then returned to the community with warnings when necessary.

In addition to the Community Seismic Network, the California Integrated Seismic Network's Earthquake Early Warning System operates a computer network of seismometers that monitor vibrations at about 400 stations.

From BBC News
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