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Laptop Computers Detect and Monitor Earthquakes 78

Pickens writes "Live Science reports that 1,000 people from 61 countries have signed up with the Quake-Catcher Network to take advantage of built-in accelerometers in newer laptops that transmit data about earthquakes to researchers at UC Irvine and Stanford University. 'It's providing additional data that can be fed into the seismic networks,' says Elizabeth Cochran, a UC Irvine geoscientist. 'It also allows us to record earthquakes at a scale that we haven't been able to before because of the cost.' Cochran came up with the idea for the Quake-Catcher Network when she learned that most new laptops come equipped with accelerometers designed to switch off the hard drive if the laptop is dropped. 'I figured that we could easily tap into this data and use it to record earthquakes.' While traditional seismic monitors can detect earthquakes of magnitude 1.0 or less, the lowest magnitude the Quake-Catcher Network can detect is about 4.0, a moderate quake much like the one that hit LA on March 16. But what the network lacks in sensitivity, it makes up for in price as traditional seismic sensors cost $5,000 to $10,000 apiece. 'Ideally we would have seismometers in every building, or at least on every block. And in tall buildings, we'd have multiple sensors [on different floors],' says Cochran. 'That way, we would be able to actually get much higher detail images of how the ground shakes during an earthquake.'"
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Laptop Computers Detect and Monitor Earthquakes

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  • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@b ... u d s o n . c om> on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @03:59PM (#31588480) Journal

    There was a report here on slashdot that the balance board hardware was actually VERY good. Maybe the MotionPlus could be useful.

  • Re:Take this! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @04:20PM (#31588718) Homepage
    In all seriousness, they use the laptops to provide supplementary data to model the shaking of the ground and the buildings, not as primary earthquake detectors. People deliberately shaking their laptops are their least concerns. (Normal shaking, like from typing, is more important.)
  • Nah. Mobile phones (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @04:28PM (#31588828)

    Many mobiles have accelerometers these days in addition to gps. So you can get the gps positions of the wave as well as the gps timestamp and the accelerometer values.

    They are even connected to a network. The tricorder in startrek... Mobile phone...

  • by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <> on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @04:35PM (#31588888) Homepage Journal
    They are also taking advantage of the fact that most laptops seldom (if ever) move much. Many people buy them more to save physical space on their desk than they do to actually go somewhere with them.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @04:40PM (#31588984) Journal
    I suspect, though, that substantially fewer mobile phones are well coupled to the earth at any given time.

    Laptops aren't fantastic in that regard; but they are substantially better. Most of a laptop's "on time" is spent sitting on some more or less solid piece of furniture. There are the "user wandering around holding the thing" and "sitting in user's amply padded lap" and "on top of cushion on top of pile of blankets on top of bed, overheating" data points that you have to be able to filter out; but those are the exceptions.

    With phones, they spend most of their lives in a pocket or bag, or in somebody's hand. Amount of time spent sitting, laptop like, on a solid surface is pretty small. And, when there is a human between you and the ground, you lose a lot of detail at the low and high ends of intensity(and, perhaps even more serious, since resolution depends on accurate detection of low intensity stuff, you always lose that). The body of a standing human is really good at compensating for small vibrations. Our balance depends on it. On the high end, the accelerometer trace of "falls over, runs around screaming" is probably pretty dramatic; but ill correlated with what the ground is doing.
  • by Tekfactory ( 937086 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @04:57PM (#31589206) Homepage

    What is with the Mac hate?

    IBM/Lenovo ran an ad a long time ago talking about his new Thinkpad stopping the drive when the laptop was falling. The other guy grabs the laptop drops it on the ground and says so the hard drive is fine.

    The other guy says that's not my Thinkpad, hilarity ensues.

    But if all you need is an accelerometer, somebody needs to tell this guy to write an app for the iPhone, iPod Touch, my Droid, and probably a lot of other phones.

  • AFRICA?? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @05:02PM (#31589270)

    African internet presence is saddening, indeed.

    The first link in TFS has a Google map. The google map shows a single laptop for Africa, located in Cairo. Zoom out and you can see it's not a fluke, because the other continents have plenty of entries of either laptops or USB sensors (compare to Puerto Rico or US presence)

  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @06:01PM (#31589942) Journal

    However, I'm very surprised they're not just going for a bulk purchase of unlocked smartphones, it must be cheaper and just as accurate as laptop accelerometers. Laptops seem very roundabout...

    Price, Quality, Speed. Pick two.

    Laptops are "free", have "free" internet, get recharged for "free", are usually on a solid surface, and the reporting software is downloadable. And by "free" I mean "free to the scientists"

    OTOH, do you want to be the guy who has to get permission from XYZ building owners in order to distribute and plug in an endless number of smart phones?

    Software on laptops seem to be a lot better than smartphones when it comes to price and speed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 24, 2010 @11:16AM (#31598056)

    This could also provide interesting data in the case of a large office building, allowing better analysis of how the structure reacted to the motion. Hundreds of points of measurement, in a real-world structure, during and even, could lead to even better understanding of failure modes for structures.

The IQ of the group is the lowest IQ of a member of the group divided by the number of people in the group.