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Detect earthquakes with cell phones

The great majority of modern cell phones are positively teaming with a wide array of sensors such as a GPS sensor, compass, accelerometer and gyroscope.  These all help to assist the phone to work out where it is and in which direction it is pointing, something that is of great advantage when attempting to make use of mapping and other location-based apps.

The potential wrapped up in these connected, well-equipped and increasingly common devices is hardly being tapped at present, but this is something that could be about to change.  Qingkai Kong, a graduate student from the University of California in Berkeley, wants to use these sensors, in particular the accelerometer, to turn the three-dimensional motion sensor on a smartphone into a small detection system for seismic waves.

While the idea is still in its infancy at present, researchers have already been able to detect simulated earthquakes with the devices, which are the equivalent of a magnitude 5.0 event in the laboratory, and believe that the sensitivity will only get better as cell phone accelerometers improve.

There are a number of obvious problems with the idea of making use of such a system, such as how to separate shaking caused by earthquakes from other forms of shaking the cell phone might experience, but researchers believe they have developed an algorithm that could do just that.  All of the data from cell phones could create a “smartphone seismic network (that) has potential to feed directly into the early warning system”.