Back in 2016, Ars reported on an interesting use for the sensor packs we carry every day on our smartphones – earthquake detection. The accelerators on your phone make a seismometer passable enough, and along with location data and enough users, you can detect earthquakes and alert users as shocks roll across the landscape. The University of California-Berkeley, together with funds from the state of California, built an app called “MyShake” and gave birth to a free, effective earthquake detection network, at least, it was born for the people who installed the app.
What if you do not need to install the application? What if the earthquake detection had just been introduced into the operating system? This is the question that Google will answer, with today’s announcement of the “Android Earth Alert System”. Google will build what it calls “the world’s largest earthquake detection network” by detecting earthquake detection on almost every Google Play Android phone. Here is the meat of the announcement:
All smartphones come with small accelerators that can sense earthquakes. They are even sensitive enough to detect the P wave, which is the first wave that comes out of an earthquake and is usually much less harmful than the S wave that comes next. If the phone detects something it thinks might be an earthquake, it sends a signal to our earthquake detection server, along with a thick spot where the tremor occurred. The server then combines information from many phones to find out if an earthquake is happening. We are basically racing at the speed of light (which is roughly the speed at which it signals a trip on the phone) against the speed of an earthquake. And luckily for us, the speed of light is much faster!
That “race” often only works with a minute or so of warning, but is usually enough to beat and cover if you catch the announcement.
In California, Android earthquake detection will be a collaboration between Google and the same coalition that deals with ShakeAlert, the MyShake client-level backup system for users. California’s ShakeAlert combines smartphone readings with a network of traditional seismometers, and now Android will be just another ShakeAlert client, pumping data into the system and showing alarms from it.
For anywhere else in the world that does not have such an advanced earthquake detection infrastructure, Google’s internal Google Allies Alerts system will be on earthquake surveillance. The company says that “to begin with, we’re going to use this technology to share a quick, accurate view of the affected area of Google Search. When you look at the ‘earthquake’ or ‘earthquake’ near me, area, along with useful, reliable resources on what to do after an earthquake “.
The feature is being distributed through Google Play Services for any Android version of version 5.0 and above. Unlike major system updates, which take years to reach most Android phones, Google Play Services are distributed by Google and can hit any single active Android phone (excluding non-Google devices in China) within a few weeks. Android 5.0 and above applications mean 94 percent of the 2.5 billion Google Play Android devices will have access to the feature.
The feature is enabled (and disabled) by switching Google Location Services to Android settings (also called “Google Location Accuracy”), which states, “Google may collect location data periodically and use this data anonymously to improve location accuracy and location-based services. turn it on Location Services during the configuration stream, and i’m thinking it ‘s enabled on most phones. Earthquake detection uses your obscure location data, at city level, not your exact location data.
Before proactive alarms spread around the world, it sounds like Google wants to collect some data first. Proactive earthquake warnings will only be in California for now (which already has ShakeAlert and a certain data set), and Google says that “over the next year, you can expect to see earthquake alarms coming in more countries and countries using Android phone- based on earthquake detection “.