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Your Laptop Could Be an Earthquake Detector

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.

Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.