Tiny sensor used in smart phones could create urban seismic network

Sep 29, 2013

A tiny chip used in smart phones to adjust the orientation of the screen could serve to create a real-time urban seismic network, easily increasing the amount of strong motion data collected during a large earthquake, according to a new study published in the October issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America (BSSA).

Micro-Electro-Mechanical System (MEMS) accelerometers measure the rate of acceleration of ground motion and vibration of cars, buildings and installations. In the 1990s MEMS accelerometers revolutionized the automotive airbag industry and are found in many devices used daily, including smart phones, video games and laptops.

Antonino D'Alessandro and Giuseppe D'Anna, both seismologists at Istituto Nazionale di Geosifica e Vulcanologia in Italy, tested whether inexpensive MEMS accelerometers could reliably and accurately detect ground motion caused by earthquakes. They tested the LIS331DLH MEMS accelerometer installed in the iPhone mobile phone, comparing it to the earthquake sensor EpiSensor ES-T force balance accelerometer produced by Kinemetrics Inc.

The tests suggest that the MEMS can detect moderate to strong earthquakes (greater than magnitude 5) when located near the epicenter. The device produces sufficient noise to prevent it from accurately detecting lesser quakes—a limitation to its use in monitoring strong motion.

D'Alessandro and D'Anna note that the technology is rapidly evolving, and there will soon be MEMS sensors that are sensitive to quakes less than magnitude 5. The real advantage, say the authors, is the widespread use of mobile phones and laptops that include MEMS technology, making it possible to dramatically increase coverage when strong earthquakes occur.

The current state of the MEMS sensors, suggest the authors, could be used for the creation of an urban that could transmit in real-time data to a central location for assessment. The rich volume of data could help first responders identify areas of greatest potential damage, allowing them to allocate resources more effectively.

Explore further: 3-D-printable materials deform to change surface area, enabling curvature rather than rigid folding

More information: The article, "Suitability of low-cost three-axis MEMS accelerometers in strong-motion seismology: tests on the LIS331DLH (iPhone) accelerometer," is published in October issue of BSSA.

Related Stories

Smartphones as seismometers intrigue Berkeley researchers

Dec 07, 2012

(Phys.org)—Researchers at the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory want to table smartphones as pocket-sized seismometers. The phones used as warning systems could make a life or death difference in the seconds one might have ...

First precise MEMS output measurement technique unveiled

May 14, 2013

The commercial application of MEMS, or micro-electro-mechanical systems, will receive a major boost today following the presentation of a brand new way to accurately measure the power requirements and outputs ...

Recommended for you

Fully automated: Thousands of blood samples every hour

3 hours ago

Siemens is supplying automation technology for the longest and one of the most cutting-edge sample processing lines in any clinical laboratory. The line, or automation track, 200 meters long, in Marlborough, ...

Explainer: What is 4-D printing?

4 hours ago

Additive manufacturing – or 3D printing – is 30 years old this year. Today, it's found not just in industry but in households, as the price of 3D printers has fallen below US$1,000. Knowing you can p ...

First series production vehicle with software control

4 hours ago

Siemens has unveiled the first electric series production vehicle with the central electronics and software architecture RACE. This technology, developed in the research project of the same name, replaces ...

Amputee puts limb system through its paces

6 hours ago

"Amputee Makes History with APL's Modular Prosthetic Limb" is the headline from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, where a team working on prosthetics observed a milestone when a double amputee showed ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.