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Your Laptop Could Be an Earthquake Detector

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 28 comments

Thinkpads and MacBook Pros working together to help save lives.

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 report from NPR has put the spotlight on Quake-Catcher Network, a project from StanfordUniversity that uses the combined data from accelerometer-packing laptops that are connected to the internet.

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.

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  • 24 Hide
    bogcotton , April 20, 2010 12:55 AM
    Quote:
    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.


    So all I have to do to prank a whole town is get a few friends to shake their laptops with me?

    This idea has an undertone of sensibility, but come on!
    It's rediculous.
  • 20 Hide
    rage machine , April 20, 2010 12:57 AM
    So, let me get this straight...

    It will send out a warning so that people 2 and a half seconds away have that 2 and a half seconds to get to safety? This just doesn't make sense.
  • 15 Hide
    micr0be , April 20, 2010 1:05 AM
    i can see the new apple commercials "buy a mac, save a life"....
Other Comments
  • -2 Hide
    phoenix777 , April 20, 2010 12:54 AM
    o.O
  • 8 Hide
    zerapio , April 20, 2010 12:54 AM
    I ain't afraid of no quake!
  • 24 Hide
    bogcotton , April 20, 2010 12:55 AM
    Quote:
    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.


    So all I have to do to prank a whole town is get a few friends to shake their laptops with me?

    This idea has an undertone of sensibility, but come on!
    It's rediculous.
  • 20 Hide
    rage machine , April 20, 2010 12:57 AM
    So, let me get this straight...

    It will send out a warning so that people 2 and a half seconds away have that 2 and a half seconds to get to safety? This just doesn't make sense.
  • 2 Hide
    nforce4max , April 20, 2010 12:58 AM
    Grab your floaties kids the pools are choppy today.
  • 15 Hide
    micr0be , April 20, 2010 1:05 AM
    i can see the new apple commercials "buy a mac, save a life"....
  • -4 Hide
    tacoslave , April 20, 2010 1:08 AM
    dogman_1234It is not a detector or a predictor, it is a build in seimigraph.We will never predict quakes at all for they are spontaneous!


    Damn strait. Get this though it detects earthquakes like 3 seconds before they happen. Useless.
  • 7 Hide
    jay236 , April 20, 2010 1:11 AM
    Geologists already use far more reliable detectors that would ACTUALLY save lives.
  • 2 Hide
    brendano257 , April 20, 2010 1:16 AM
    jay236Geologists already use far more reliable detectors that would ACTUALLY save lives.


    This is true, and although this sort of software isn't very helpful, the point is it provides some amount of detection since none of us have personal geologists following us around.
  • 1 Hide
    mlopinto2k1 , April 20, 2010 1:30 AM
    In the voice of Bugz Bunny, "Ahhhhhhhhhh, Could be!"
  • 3 Hide
    DM0407 , April 20, 2010 1:36 AM
    I think this is more useful for researching AFTER the tremor.

    P and S waves can be triangulated to better understand the earths guts.
  • 0 Hide
    warmon6 , April 20, 2010 2:18 AM
    while i like the idea, it's just not practical. Few problems with it,

    1. How would tell the difference between someone moving the laptop and a earth quake?

    2. as other people pointed out, unless you got a warning system on you and your very far away from the quake , you wont have enough time to react.
  • 0 Hide
    proxy711 , April 20, 2010 2:23 AM
    Hey i can do the same thing....*rumble rumble*...OH SH IT TAKE COVER EARTHQUAKE!!!


    oh wait everyone else felt that...
  • 0 Hide
    CHRISTLUBAS , April 20, 2010 2:43 AM
    Graboid detector from tremors 2,3 and the series!
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , April 20, 2010 4:32 AM
    life imitates xkcd

    http://xkcd.com/723/
  • 8 Hide
    GeoMan , April 20, 2010 4:48 AM
    Once again some pretty poor science reporting. The whole point isn’t to give advanced quake warning it’s to identify the size and distribution of quake intensity so that emergency response can be quickly and efficiently organized. The data produced from a monitoring system like this could be used to augment systems like PAGER (Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response). So a mag 7.0 in central Antarctica that set off the accelerometers of two researchers laptops won’t get the whole world mobilized for emergency response, whereas a 7.0 near Los Angeles that sets off 500 000 laptops and it’s time to start breaking out the tents and fresh drinking water supplies.
  • 3 Hide
    GeoMan , April 20, 2010 5:08 AM
    On other side notes, responses to some of the posts so far. A system like this only works by analyzing lots of data, so individual laptop movements won’t raise any flags, but if tens or hundreds of laptops in more or less the same area all have the accelerometers triggered at the same time, that will be picked up on the servers getting feedback from all the laptops on the network.

    The accelerometers on laptops anent nearly accurate enough to reliably give the arrival times of P or S waves, or for that matter reliably tell the difference between P or S waves, plus you would need very precise location data to use this data in earth tomography or deep earth structure interpretation.

    And finally to reiterate this wouldn’t be used as an early warning system, at absolute best you would get seconds warning, but the ground shaking and the building you’re in falling on your head would probably be your first warning sign of a major quake. This is only useful as an indicator of the human impact of a quake by interpreting the feedback from lots of laptops.
  • 0 Hide
    descendency , April 20, 2010 5:20 AM
    But hey, your laptop could say "Oh S***! the ground is shaking."
  • 0 Hide
    alyoshka , April 20, 2010 5:26 AM
    Yeah, I'd like a Laptop out there to give me the shivers......or atleast they still have to come up with such a laptop.....
  • -3 Hide
    FloKid , April 20, 2010 6:10 AM
    iQuake... 3 seconds later... head shot!!! hahahahaha
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