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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 Bakkster ( 1529253 ) <Bakkster.man@NosPam.gmail.com> on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @05:30PM (#31589550)

    The balance board uses strain guages, which can't detect earthquakes to my knowledge. Similarly, motionplus is gyroscopes, which in this case are not accurate enough to determine the very small displacements from an earthquake.

    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...

  • unanswered questions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @06:13PM (#31590104)

    most new laptops come equipped with accelerometers

    So how do I determine if my laptop has one? And if it does, how can I get access to it by software? Even if the is one or more accelerometers in there for protection of the hard drive, it will require a presence in the I/O address space, I assume, for it to be used by this or any other software. Apparently this exists, or the software would be as useful as Duke Nuken Forever, but I have not found any insight in the articles on how accelerometers can be accessed. Can anyone provide some technical details? I would like to use this for other applications, but would gladly share any earthquake data that the system captured while it was idle if I had the hardware.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas