We’re already used to using cell phones for a wide range of things—GPS navigation, videos, games—but this is a new one: The mechanics already present in most cell phones could be utilized to help seismologists map earthquakes and warn those in danger. BBC News has the details:
“Nowadays, smartphones carry all sorts of sensors, and we can put these to use in unexpected ways,” explained Qingkai Kong. “Right now, we can only detect earthquakes above about Magnitude 5.0, but with better accelerometers in future smartphones we would hope to detect smaller ones as well,” he told BBC News.
Scientists tested whether or not the devices could pick up vibrations by putting them on a “shake table”:
This instrument can simulate various grades of tremors. It is usually employed to test the robustness of various construction techniques, to provide confidence that buildings will not collapse during an earthquake.
The results clearly demonstrated that the accelerometers – used primarily in phones as part of the mechanism to tilt the screen – could pick up the shaking.
Using this function, scientists could design an app that would collect data from a multitude of smartphones, producing a detailed map of the intensity of an earthquake. This could in turn be used to warn those nearby within seconds.
This is yet another example of the new capabilities of the increasingly information-rich society in which we live. The devices that we take for granted to perform simple daily tasks can also advance scientific understanding and mitigate the damage of natural disasters.