Here’s how Google is making all Android phones earthquake sensors

Farai Mudzingwa Avatar
Samsung, Apple, galaxy, iPhone

Smartphones are pretty smart – but I bet you didn’t know they were smart enough to be used as earthquakes. Well, I didn’t and I’m a pretty smart guy. Jokes aside though, Google recently announced that Android phones will now be part of what they describe as the “largest earthquake detection network”.

We saw an opportunity to use Android to provide people with timely, helpful earthquake information when they search, as well as a few seconds warning to get themselves and their loved ones to safety if needed.

Google collaborated with United States Geological Survey (USGS) and California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) to send earthquake alerts, powered by ShakeAlert, directly to Android devices in California.

From today onwards Google will be enabling Android phones the world over to detect earthquakes. Phones that are part of the Android Earthquake Alerts System will be used as “mini” Seismometers joining millions of other Android phones to detect earthquakes.

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How is this possible?

Google explains that your phones accelerometer can sense signals that indicate an earthquake might be happening. If your phone detects something that it thinks may be an earthquake, it sends a signal to Google’s earthquake detection server, along with a coarse location of where the shaking occurred. The server then combines information from many phones to figure out if an earthquake is happening.

How will you and I get notified when there’s an earthquake?

Yuhp, I know earthquakes are not exactly common occurrences in our little country but someone reading this may still want to know about this cool tech. It will work as follows. When you look up “earthquake” or “earthquake near me,” you’ll find relevant results for your area, along with helpful resources on what to do after an earthquake. 

The feature is rolling out to California first and then to other countries. I suppose Zimbabwe will be one of the last or lower prioritised countries in regards to the rollout of this feature given that we don’t experience many earthquakes.

Who will have access to this feature?

The feature is being distributed through Google Play Services for every Android phone running version 5.0 and up. The Android 5.0 and up requirement means 94 percent of the 2.5 billion Google Play Android devices will have access to the feature.

To activate the feature you’ll need to grant access via Google Location Services in the settings menu. Earthquake detection uses your coarse, city-level location data, not your fine-grained exact location data.

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