While all new smartphones today have accelerometers, it's still a rarity for laptops; but researchers are putting those laptops, as few as there are, to use by turning them into tremor detectors.
PC laptops such as ThinkPads and all Apple MacBook Pro laptops feature an accelerometer that's used to park the heads of hard drives in case of sudden movement. It's a safety feature that helps to keep your data from a scary hard drive crash, but researchers are putting that technology towards earthquake detection.
A user of a ThinkPad, MacBook Pro, or anyone with an external USB detector, can download the software for free to help aid in earthquake detection. Of course, the sensors inside a laptop aren't designed to pick up minute movements in the earth – in fact, they can only pick up tremors of about magnitude 4.0 and above – but it would still be valuable information for warning surrounding areas.
"If you can detect an event fast enough, then you can potentially provide advance alert to surrounding areas, and those areas could react in several seconds and get to safety," one of the researchers explained.