Earthquakes are a scary concept, not least because they come without warning. Often, by the time you find out one is happening, it’s too late to take cover. Now Android phones are becoming earthquake detectors in the hopes of giving you the few seconds you need to protect yourself.
Google is rolling out its new detection in phases. California, due to its population proximity to faultlines, already has a “ShakeAlert” system in place. Powered by over 700 seismometers installed across the state, ShakeAlert already serves as an early warning system for the west coast.
Now, Android phones can partner with ShakeAlert, and notifications about an earthquake will go direct to the phones. Google designed the notification to be easy to read and act upon; a wall of text won’t due when you need to act quickly.
Unfortunately, not all areas prone to earthquakes have a system in place to measure them. So for other parts of the world, Google is turning your phone into an earthquake detection system. Phones have accelerometers built into them that can detect sudden movement. If your Android device thinks it’s sensing an earthquake, it will send data to Google’s earthquake detection server.
That server pulls in data from many phones, thanks to the ubiquity of Android phones. It then compiles the data, tracks the earthquake, and finds its epicenter. To start, Google isn’t trying to warn about earthquakes so much as learn about them and map impacted areas.
The hope is down the road to confidently send out notifications, but in the beginning, Google needs to develop the technology. You’ll be able to lookup “earthquake near me” and relevant results and information on what to do after an earthquake. Google hopes to roll out alerts to more states in countries in the coming year. The service is opt-in, you’ll need to turn it on if you want to take part.