Google turns Android phones into earthquake sensors

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Google is creating an Android-based earthquake alert system that will alert smartphone users when the earth is about to shake.

The Android phone will become a mini seismometer, joining millions of other Android phones out there to form the world’s largest earthquake detection network.

Google said the first part of the system will be rolling out today in California since there’s already a great seismometer-based system in place.

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“Over the coming year, you can expect to see the earthquake alerts coming to more states and countries using Android’s phone-based earthquake detection,” the company said in a statement.

Google turns Android phones into earthquake sensors

This is how it works.

All smartphones come with tiny accelerometers that can sense signals that indicate an earthquake might be happening.

If the phone detects something that it thinks may be an earthquake, it sends a signal to our earthquake detection server, along with a coarse location of where the shaking occurred.

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The server then combines information from many phones to figure out if an earthquake is happening.

“We’re essentially racing the speed of light (which is roughly the speed at which signals from phone travel) against the speed of an earthquake. And lucky for us, the speed of light is much faster!” Google said.

The company has collaborated with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) to send earthquake alerts, powered by ‘ShakeAlert’, directly to Android devices in California.

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The ‘ShakeAlert’ system uses signals from more than 700 seismometers installed across the state by USGS, Cal OES, University of California Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology.

To start with, Google will use the technology to share a fast, accurate view of the impacted area on Google Search.

When you look up “earthquake” or “earthquake near me,” you’ll find relevant results for your area, along with helpful resources on what to do after an earthquake.

“We’ve worked with globally-renowned seismology and disaster experts Dr. Richard Allen, Dr. Qingkai Kong, and Dr. Lucy Jones to develop this crowdsourced approach for detecting earthquakes all around the world,” Google said.


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