Google has just developed a new feature for Android which can send alerts of an imminent earthquake and even use your phone as a tiny seismometer, along with millions of others, to create the world’s largest earthquake detection network.

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That’s just been revealed in the latest Google blog post and it’s pretty cool.

The first part of the news has seen Google collaborate with the US Geological Survey and California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services so that earthquake alerts are sent directly to Android devices. In this first stage, this will apply in California only.

This system, powered by ShakeAlert, uses 700 seismometers installed across California. The warnings may deliver just a few seconds’ warning, but this may be enough. As Google explains it in a video on the blog: “As soon as a tremor is detected, an alert gets sent out to your Android device, giving you precious seconds to find cover or safer ground. After the quake, the phone sends feedback to help us learn more about quakes so we’re even more prepared for the next one.”

That’s pretty cool, but Google is going further. As it points out, that widespread seismometer network is not universally available around the world, so it’s making use of a really small doohickey, the accelerometer found in your smartphone, to create the world’s largest earthquake detection network.

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Google explains it this way: “If the phone detects something that it thinks may be an earthquake, it sends a signal to our 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. We’re essentially racing the speed of light (which is roughly the speed at which signals from a phone travel) against the speed of an earthquake. And lucky for us, the speed of light is much faster!”

It’s an exciting technology which is expected in the coming year to reach way beyond California.

In the meantime, after an earthquake, if you use your Android phone to search for “Earthquake” or “Earthquake near me”, Google will offer relevant results.

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