Turns out, Android phones are really good at picking up earthquakes


We in South Africa like to complain about a lot of things. We have every right to, of course! The government is a mess, unemployment rates continue to rise and for some ungodly reason the Chocolate Log, otherwise known as the best chocolate in the entire Southern hemisphere, has been removed from stores all over the country. It’s enough to make anyone cry, yet while all that bad stuff is no doubt a factor, at least we don’t have to constantly worry about earthquakes splitting the ground open beneath us. That’s a real blessing for us but for countries where that’s a serious concern, it turns out one of the faster solutions to respond to the problem could be in everyone’s Android devices.

To preface this story, you should know that a few years back the University of California-Berkley realised that by using the information gained from the accelerometers in people’s phones, they could essentially create a kind of sensory system that, by pulling signals from massive collections of phones, could help predict incoming earthquakes. They developed an app called MyShake, which might not be a great name but did as it was expected. Users who had the app on the phones could send off information regarding building earth tremors to help authorities figure out the distance and magnitude of incoming quakes. It’s a really cool concept…if people had the app.

That one little foible has been enough to prompt Google to iterate on the idea and improve the program’s efficiency by boosting the reach of the app. Announced last night, the Android Earthquake Alerts System is being built into every Google Play Android phone to create a truly massive earthquake detection system. Google’s official announcement reads:

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

It’s actually a really cool idea that will hopefully help a lot of people in areas stricken with severe earthquakes. You’ll just have to look past the fact that in order to track this kind of information, Google will indeed be using your location information. I suppose enough apps require those kinds of permissions anyway. Yet it’s just another slice of our personal lives we’re giving to Google. Still, at least it’s for a good cause this time.

(Source: Ars Technica)


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I completed a Masters Degree just so someone might take my opinions seriously one day. Also writes about video games over at Critical Hit.

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