There is no doubt that an early earthquake warning can help save lots of lives. This is why Google is creating a worldwide earthquake alert system that will be powered by Android phones.
Google is rolling out the first part of this system today. If you choose to opt-in, Google will use the accelerometer on your Android smartphone as a data point in an algorithm designed to detect earthquakes. This will eventually help in sending automatic alerts to people who could be impacted by upcoming earthquakes.
The data gathered from the accelerometer in a single smartphone doesn’t say a lot. But if you observe patterns of activity across thousands of devices in a given area, it can be used to monitor seismic movements in real-time.
It goes without saying that we cannot expect data aggregation to be as accurate as a network of seismometers. But given that there are over 2.5 billion Android smartphones (as per Google I/O 2019) across the globe, it could generate huge amounts of useful data.
In case of a large seismic event, Google can flash alerts on smartphones a few seconds before the shaking starts, so that people can prepare themselves better.
The system will be first tested against the existing seismometer network in California. After appropriate adjustments and refinement, the Android earthquake alert system will be rolled out to further states and countries over the coming year.