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Tiny Sensor Used in Smartphones Could Create Urban Seismic Network

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A smartphone chip can detect moderate to strong earthquakes.

A smartphone chip soon will be sufficiently sensitive to detect earthquakes below magnitude 5.

Credit: Associated Press

A tiny chip used in smartphones to adjust the orientation of the screen can detect moderate to strong earthquakes when located near the epicenter. However, the rapidly evolving technology soon should be sensitive to quakes less than magnitude 5, according to seismologists at the Istituto Nazionale di Geosifica e Vulcanologia.

Microelectromechanical system (MEMS) accelerometers measure the rate of acceleration of ground motion and the vibration of cars, buildings, and installations. Istituto Nazionale di Geosifica e Vulcanologia's Antonino D'Alessandro and Giuseppe D'Anna believe the real advantage of MEMS technology via the widespread use of mobile phones and laptops is the potential to dramatically increase coverage during strong earthquakes.

D'Alessandro and D'Anna say there soon will be MEMS sensors that are sensitive to quakes of less than magnitude 5. MEMS sensors could be used to create an urban seismic network that could transmit ground motion data in real time to a central location for assessment. First responders would be able to identify areas of greatest potential damage and allocate resources more efficiently by using the data.

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