Google turns Android phones into mini-seismometers to offer natural disaster alerts

Yolanda Curtis
August 12, 2020

Google is today announcing a new feature for Android devices that will be helpful during quake.

The reason Androids are able to use their device as a "mini seismometer" is due to the handset's accelerometer, which detects if users rotate the smartphone.

"'With the growing cost of natural disasters worldwide, we saw an opportunity to use Android to provide people with timely, helpful quake information when they search, as well as a few seconds warning to get themselves and their loved ones to safety if needed", Google shared in a blog post.


As Google has already managed to successfully enhance the detection in California and warn people as early as possible, long-term it intends to bring the same warning system to the rest of the world.

The search giant has joined hands with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) to start sending quake alerts to Android users in the state, using the existing ShakeAlert system. We saw an opportunity to use Android to provide people with timely, helpful natural disaster information when they search, as well as a few seconds warning to get themselves and their loved ones to safety if needed. The system uses signals from over 700 traditional seismometers. So if your Android phone thinks it has detected an quake, it will communicate with a central server to confirm.

Over the coming year, Google expects to start sending quake alerts in more states across the United States and several countries around the world using Android's phone-based detection system.


Google said that smartphone accelerometers are sensitive enough to detect P-waves, which are the first waves to arrive during an natural disaster.

'If the phone detects something that it thinks may be an natural disaster, it sends a signal to our quake detection server, along with a coarse location of where the shaking occurred'. Google Search will have access to the data and can provide anyone searching for terms such as "earthquake" or "earthquake near me" with accurate details of if an quake occurred and exactly where it struck.

The server then combines information from many phones to figure out if an quake is happening.


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