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Community Sense and Response Systems: Your Phone as Quake Detector

Community Sense and Response Systems: Your Phone as Quake Detector, illustration

Credit: Hitandrun

The proliferation of smartphones and other powerful sensor-equipped consumer devices enables a new class of Web application: community sense and response (CSR) systems, distinguished from standard Web applications by their use of community-owned commercial sensor hardware. Just as social networks connect and share human-generated content, CSR systems gather, share, and act on sensory data from users' Internet-enabled devices. Here, we discuss the Caltech Community Seismic Network (CSN) as a prototypical CSR system harnessing accelerometers in smartphones and consumer electronics, including the systems and algorithmic challenges of designing, building, and evaluating a scalable network for real-time awareness of dangerous earthquakes.

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Worldwide, approximately two million Android and iOS devices have been activated every day since 2012, each carrying numerous sensors and high-speed Internet connection. Several recent sensing projects have sought to partner with the owners of these and other consumer devices to collect, share, and act on sensor data about phenomena that could affect millions of lives. Coupled with cloud computing platforms, these networks can achieve vast coverage previously beyond the reach of sensor networks.6 Boulos et al.5 includes an excellent overview of how the social and mobile Web facilitate crowdsourcing data from individuals and their sensor devices. Additional applications of community and participatory sensing include understanding traffic flows,4,14,16,20 identifying sources of environmental pollution,1,2 monitoring public health,18 and responding to natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.8,9,11,15 These systems are made possible through volunteer sensors and low-cost Web solutions for data collection and storage. However, as the systems mature, they will undoubtedly extend beyond data collection and take real-time action on behalf of the community; for example, traffic networks can reroute traffic around a crash, and a seismic network can automatically slow trains to prevent derailment.


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Your Phone as Quake Detector.