Google turns Android phones into earthquake detectors

Japan, Mexico, and California already use land-based sensors to get warnings. That helps them cut injuries and property damage by giving people further away from the epicenter of an earthquake seconds to protect themselves before the shaking starts.

Google turns Android phones into earthquake detectors
Google turns Android phones into earthquake detectors

Google turns Android phones into earthquake detectors

Alphabet’s Google android phones have started detecting earthquakes around the world. This will provide data that could eventually give billions of users precious seconds of warning of a tremor nearby. The alerting feature will first roll call at California.

Japan, Mexico, and California already use land-based sensors to get warnings. That helps them cut injuries and property damage by giving people further away from the epicenter of an earthquake seconds to protect themselves before the shaking starts.

If Google’s approach gets successful, this technology would reach even the developing countries which have few traditional sensors. As reported by Gadgets360, Richard Allen, director of University of California Berkeley’s seismological lab and visiting faculty at Google over the last year, said that they are on a path to delivering earthquake alerts wherever there are smartphones.

Principal software engineer Marc Stogaitis said that Google’s program emerged from a week-long session 4-1/2 years ago to test whether the accelerometers in phones could detect car crashes, earthquakes, and tornadoes. Accelerometers are sensors that measure direction and force of motion. They are mainly used to determine whether a user is holding a phone in landscape or portrait mode.

The company studied historical accelerometer readings during earthquakes and located that they might give some users up to a moment of notice. Android phones can currently differentiate between earthquakes from vibrations caused by thunder or the device dropping. The device can only do it if the device is charging, stationary, and has user permission to share data with Google.

Stogaitis said that if phones detect an earthquake, they send their city-level location to Google. Google can then triangulate the epicenter and estimate the magnitude with as few as several hundred reports. The system won’t add regions including China where Google’s Play Services software is blocked. Stogaitis said that people expected to experience strong shaking would hear a loud dinging and see full-screen advisement to drop, cover, and hold on.

He added that those further away would get a smaller notification designed not to stir them from their sleep, while people too close to be warned will get information about post-quake safety, such as checking gas valves. Alerts will automatically trigger for earthquakes magnitude 4.5 or greater, and no app download is necessary.