Google is working on converting Android smartphones into earthquake detectors

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on August 12, 2020 Published on August 12, 2020

To provide warnings to users

Google is working on building the “world largest earthquake detections network” using Android smartphones.

The tech giant is working on converting Android smartphones into “mini seismometer” to provide warnings to users seconds ahead of an earthquake near them.

“Your Android phone can be part of the Android Earthquake Alerts System, wherever you live in the world. This means your Android phone can be a mini seismometer, joining millions of other Android phones out there to form the world’s largest earthquake detection network,” Marc Stogaitis, Principal Software Engineer, Android, wrote in a blog post.

Google’s research is based on accelerometers that come with Android smartphones. Accelerometers are sensors that are used to measure direction and force of motion. These sensors are generally used to determine if a user is holding a phone in landscape or portrait mode.

“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. The server then combines information from many phones to figure out if an earthquake is happening,” explained Stogaitis.

Google is working with seismology and disaster experts Richard Allen, Qingkai Kong and Lucy Jones to develop this crowdsourced approach for detecting earthquakes all around the world.

Aggregating data

The tech giant is currently working on aggregating data from Android smartphones that have agreed to share data with Google.

“To start, we’ll use this 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,” Stogaitis wrote.

After testing, if the Android Earthquake Alerts System is deemed accurate enough, it will start sending citywide alerts to users on an active basis.

Currently, it is testing an earthquake detection system in collaboration with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES).

The collaboration will help Google send earthquake alerts to users. This is done through a mobile app ShakeAlert. The alerts are sent directly to Android devices in California.

“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,” Google explained.

Over the coming year, Google will extend its earthquake alerts to more states and countries using Android’s phone-based earthquake detection.

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Published on August 12, 2020
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