Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you

Google turns Android phones into local earthquake monitors

The sensors in your phone could be used for something else, as Google works out how to turn local Android phones into seismic monitoring systems.

Your phone can already do some pretty interesting things beyond simply making a phone call, but one of the things Google is making Android phones do is very different.

While your phone could easily be a wallet, a step tracker, a music player, and may even eventually use the way you walk as a form of security, it could also be a way to tell you whether there’s an earthquake you need to be aware of, thanks to a feature rolling out to Android phones in Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

Expanding to Android phones in the region, the Android Earthquake Alerts System sees Google using a phone’s accelerometer to pick up on a specific type of seismic wave, analysing the type of shaking they receive and processing it in the cloud. That quick process can result in an alert on a phone to tell you to be aware if the earthquake has an intensity level of 3 or 4, or to take action if the intensity level if a 5 and above.

When the earthquake alert pops up, it’ll provide information and instructions, and depending on the severity of the alert, will either use your phone’s volume or turn it up to get your attention. If you need to take action, expect Google’s alert to be a little on the loud side.

Interestingly, for the earthquake alert to work, you not only need to have Earthquake Alerts switched on in settings (under Location Services), but also leave the phone plugged in on a surface. Given it relies on shaking being picked up from an accelerometer, it won’t work in your phone nor will it work in your pocket, meaning it’s the sort of concept that will work if you have it charging on your desk, bedside table, and so on and so on.

It won’t work with just any old shaking — you can’t simulate the vibrations of an earthquake by shaking your phone around — but instead needs that specific low-frequency acoustic energy, which comes out either as a P-wave or an S-wave, something Google’s servers can find patterns in.

The Android Earthquake Alert System initially launched in 2020 for the US, and this week is set to arrive in our spot of the world, making it a handy addition for areas more at risk of earthquakes and seismic activity, connecting that information to users in need. Folks who aren’t at risk may even be able to see a demo of it how it works by triggering a demo from the Location Services earthquake settings in their Android phone settings.

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