She said Google today, Tuesday: The smartphones operating with its Android operating system have begun to detect earthquakes around the world, with the aim of providing data that could ultimately give billions of precious seconds to warn them of a near tremor, with the launch of the alert feature initially in The US state of California.
Japan, Mexico and California are already using ground-based sensors to generate warnings, aiming to reduce injuries and property damage by taking people away from the epicenter seconds before the quake begins to protect themselves.
And if Google’s methods of detection and alerting prove effective, the warnings could reach more people, including for the first time in Indonesia and other developing countries that have few traditional sensors.
Seismologists consulted by Google said: Converting smartphones into mini seismographs represents a major advance even with inevitable error alerts from work still in development, relying on private company algorithms for public safety. More than 2.5 billion devices, including some tablets, run Google’s Android operating system.
“We are on our way to provide earthquake alerts wherever there are smartphones,” said Richard Allen – director of the Seismological Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley – and visiting faculty at Google over the past year.
The chief software engineer (Mark Stojaitis) said: The Google program emerged from a week-long session about 4 and a half years ago to test whether the accelerometers in phones can detect car accidents, earthquakes and hurricanes. Accelerometers – the sensors that measure direction and force of motion – are mainly used to determine if a user is holding the phone in a horizontal or vertical position.
The company studied historical accelerometer readings during earthquakes and found that they could give some users up to a minute of notice. Currently, Android phones can separate earthquakes from vibrations caused by thunder.
If the phones detects an earthquake, they send their citywide location to Google, which can triangulate the epicenter and estimate its magnitude from a few hundred reports, Stugetes said. The system will not work in regions such as China, where Google services are prohibited.
Google expects to release its first alerts based on accelerometer readings next year. It also plans to feed alerts free of charge to companies that want elevators, gas lines, and other systems to shut down automatically before vibration starts.
Stogetes said: A high-pitched ring and an alert that fills the screen will prompt users who are expecting a strong jolt to drop, take cover and hold. People who are far away will get a smaller notification designed not to arouse their sleep, while people who are very close to their warning will receive post-quake safety information, such as checking gas valves.
Alerts will be triggered for earthquakes of magnitude 4.5 or greater on the Richter scale, and no app download is required.