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Your Smartphone Could Help Predicting An Earthquake

In 2001, Gujarat witnessed one of the most devastating earthquakes in the country, which claimed more than 14,000 lives. Now imagine if we had a device that could forewarn people of an earthquake and save thousands of lives.

Coincidentally, a Gujarat-based institute, IIT-Gandhinagar, has developed affordable sensors that have accelerometers similar to ones in cellphone. After you connect the sensor to your cellphone and download an application from community seismic network (CSN) website, you are immediately part of the data collection network. Once connected, your phone turns into a simple seismometer that can detect vibrations from earthquakes.

"CSN data is used during an earthquake to provide very high resolution data on actual ground shaking in realtime to users. The system aims at densely populating the earthquake prone regions with low-cost accelerometer sensors which send the seismic activity log of its vicinity to the cloud and the data gets stored in the server which can be retrieved as per requirements. The data can also be used to detect ambient vibrations of the building within which they are kept and the building's response to situations involving several other types of vibrations. In future, these can be used in developing an earthquake-early-warning system," said Prof Dhiman Basu, department of civil engineering, IIT-Gn.

He said: "A number of these sensors have been installed in LD College to check the efficiency along side the community seismic network which is presently mapped over regions in and around Pasadena and Los Angeles, California in the US." IIT-Gn. The institute has tied up with Caltech's CSN, which has been running an earthquake monitoring project.

How many minutes prior to quake alerts can be sent? It depends on the distance of epicenter from the user and velocity of tremors, Prof Basu said. These sensors will continuously collect the acceleration data of the vicinity which, in turn, will help in characterization of the ambient vibrations of the arena.

How alerts are sent 

These sensors, through cloud computing, can not only identify the location of earthquake but also the position of the user. They calculate the distance between the user and the epicenter as well as the velocity at which the quake is progressing. Based on this, it issues an alert.

These sensors can be installed in any internet-enabled device like a laptop, smartphone or desktop computer. The data can also be used to detect ambient vibrations in building they are in, as well as the building's response to situations involving several other types of vibrations," Basu said.

These sensors are in the form of an electronic chip and are connected to the person's device via a combination of on-the-go (OTG cable) and a micro USB-to-USB cable. This connection powers and collects data from the sensor. The computing device is to be powered through the usual 230V single phase AC supply. The device will host the sensor data and send it to the cloud by 2G/3G GSM internet connections.

They enable scientific construction of 3D geologic models of the ground beneath the sensors, which will influence land use policy and construction codes.

Ankur Tewari
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