Android is about to become the largest earthquake detection network in the world

Tram Ho

Google is building an earthquake warning system with Android phones on a global scale. The first part of the system was released today. If engaged, the accelerometer on your Android phone becomes a data point that serves an algorithm designed to detect earthquakes. When a bad situation occurs, this system will automatically send an alert to people in the potentially affected area.

This feature is made possible thanks to the inherent advantage of Google: a huge number of Android phones operating around the world, along with the intelligent use of big data algorithms. Like when collaborating with Apple to offer contact tracking, or other Android features like car crash detection and emergency location services, earthquake detection shows that smartphones still have a lot to offer. Potential applications have not been fully explored, not just stop at a device to surf the web is today.

Google will implement an earthquake detection system in phases. First, they will partner with the United States Geological Survey and the California Office of Emergency Services to send these agencies’ earthquake warnings to Android users in California. The other warnings are issued by the ShakeAlert system that was already working and used data from traditional seismometers.

It would be great if there were seismic systems everywhere to detect earthquakes, ” said Marc Stogaitis, Android software engineer at Google. ” But that doesn’t work, and it doesn’t have global coverage, because seismographs are extremely expensive. They have to be regularly maintained, you need a lot of seismographs in an area to actually have them. get an effective earthquake early warning system .

Therefore, phase two and three of Google’s plan will be to use Android phones in place of seismographs. However, the company is doing things quite carefully. In phase two, Google will display local results in its Google earthquake results based on data it detects from Android phones. The idea here is that when you feel an earthquake, you go to Google to see if your feelings are correct.

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Finally, once Google becomes more certain of the accuracy of the system, it will begin to proactively send earthquake warnings to people living in areas that do not have seismic-based warning systems. .

Stogaitis says information gathered in the program will ” remove identifiers ” from users and that Google only needs ” raw ” location information. Both earthquake alarms and detection systems are features that the user can participate in if desired, not required. ” What we really need for the show are the tiny seismographs (which refer to Android phones) working out there, ” Stogaitis said. ” We don’t need to know anything about who is sending data, because that doesn’t matter .”

An Android phone can turn into a ” tiny seismometer ” because it has an accelerometer – which can be used to detect if you’re rotating the phone. The Android system uses data from this sensor to see if the phone is shaking. It only activates when the phone is plugged into a power source and not in use, to ensure that battery life is maintained.

We have found that Android phones are sensitive enough to detect earthquake waves. When an earthquake wave passes, they can detect and usually see both P waves and P waves. S “- Stogaitis said. ” Every cell phone is capable of detecting something like an earthquake happening, but then you need a large number of phones to make sure there’s an earthquake going on .”

P waves (Primary waves) are the first and fastest waves emanating from the epicenter of an earthquake. The S wave (Secondary wave) is slower but can be much larger. Google’s system is capable of detecting both. ” Normally people won’t feel the P wave because it’s too small, while the S wave tends to do a lot more damage, ” Stogaitis said. ” The P wave could be what tells you to be diagnosed with an S wave .”

The data is processed in classic Google style: it uses algorithms on data gathered from thousands of phones to determine if an earthquake is occurring. While traditional seismographs are expensive and accurate, Android phones are cheap and of course come with the error. Google can use Bayesian filters and other algorithms to turn those numbers into earthquake data accurate enough to send out warnings.

Google says its system is capable of locating an earthquake and determining the magnitude of an earthquake. But even so, the fundamental physical properties of the waves impose limits. ” The big point is that the phones as close to the earthquake as possible help users who are far away from the earthquake know about it. One of the limitations of the system is that we cannot warn, ” Stogaitis continued . “Everyone before an earthquake hits them. The users closest to the epicenter are more likely not to receive timely warnings because we cannot predict the earthquakes .”

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The speed factor also means Google’s Android-based warning system will have no human intervention, because the other warnings will range from ” a few seconds ” near the epicenter to 30 or 45 seconds in the area. edge.

We have many seismologists in the group, ” says Stogaitis. These include Richard Allen, ” who has spent most of his career on earthquake early warning systems and has greatly contributed to the design of the ShakeAlert system, and who has also previously built. aphone based earthquake detection system “.

Allen’s MyShake app is an example of a system like Google’s – but the difference is that Google can integrate earthquake detection directly into Android, and can do it at Google scale (no like Google’s system, MyShake only works on iPhone)

Google’s intention is to be able to provide different levels of warnings for different earthquakes. They consulted with seismologists not only about the design of the core system, but also about how the warnings appeared on the screen. The goal is ” to convey information as quickly as possible in a short amount of time so that users can understand that they need to react very quickly to an earthquake without having to read a series of lengthy content ” – Stogaitis says .

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In the long run, Google hopes to create an API based on its earthquake detection system. They have no intention of using the system on the iPhone, but if the API comes out, then Apple is free to use it. Even more interesting, other systems will likely benefit from such an earthquake detection API.

For example, someone could build something that would automatically stop the elevator on the next floor and open the door to let everyone out before the shock wave hits. And you can turn off the gas valves. automatically, you can stop medical procedures, or open access to earlier fire stations.It’s a common problem in earthquakes, when the fire is too great and the firefighters can’t get out. So you can build something to do that. Aircraft can stop landing in the process. Ships can slow down.There is an entire ecosystem that can be activated using it. This Android-based detection system and the system acts as a server so other things can be plugged in .

The investment in such a system will be very high – and the responsibility for maintaining the system will be equally high. Therefore, the other API is still a long way from coming. Google’s plan right now is to minimize false results and tweak the system. Google also has to work to ensure its notifications don’t clog the mobile network. Sending a ping to every Android phone at the same time is likely to block the mobile connection.

Google will roll the system to Android phones through Google Mobile Services, so you don’t have to wait for a complete system update to get there. Thus, the detection and alarm system will work on the vast majority of Android phones in use today (and this service will not appear in China, because Android phones here are not. use Google services)

Google will start providing earthquake warnings in California today, using an existing network of seismographs. Earthquake data will also begin to appear in Google search results. With an alert system based on data collected from Android phones, we’ll have to wait a while. Google says that if an area already has earthquake warning and detection systems in place, it would prefer to use them over phone-based systems.

Basically, there are hundreds of millions of people worldwide living near earthquake zones, ” Stogaitis said. ” And that’s what we think we can help .”

Reference: TheVerge

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