Your personal earthquake and tsunami early warning beacon

Just a few years ago, the idea of a “personal seismograph” would have seemed ridiculous — most of us aren’t geophysicists, after all, and what good is earthquake data to the average consumer? But as the Internet of Things has introduced us to a host of new, inexpensive sensors for collecting and sharing data about the physical world, it’s starting to seem plausible that an in-home earthquake detector could be just as fundamental as a fire alarm.

Seismographs traditionally are complex, delicate scientific instruments that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. But OSOP, which has made that kind of equipment for years, is now running an Indiegogo campaign for Brinco — a consumer-friendly device that leverages a custom-built motion sensor alongside the power of the IoT, to create a crowdsourced early warning network for earthquakes — and it costs less than $200.

Earthquake Detection & Warning Network: Brinco
Earthquake Detection & Warning Network: Brinco

All a user needs is a flat surface, a power outlet, and a Wi-Fi network. Once configured, the device maintains a constant connection with the Brinco cloud servers, which collect anonymized seismography data from Brinco users as well as from government and academic sources. Because the seismic waves of an earthquake travel relatively slowly through the ground, the servers have a chance to detect that a quake has begun, calculate how far it will spread, and send near-instantaneous warnings to Brinco users in the affected areas.

While those nearest the epicenter of a particular quake will still be caught unawares, Brinco users farther away will see flashing lights and hear a spoken warning about what to expect and when the quake will reach them. For earthquakes, even a few seconds of warning can allow someone to seek safety. In the case of a tsunami — the sudden rise in sea level that follows an undersea quake — the warning can come hours ahead of time.

Brinco represents the best of what the IoT can be: A solution to a very real and age-old problem, made possible by the combination of inexpensive electronics and the global telecommunications network. With the devastation of recent quakes and tsunamis still fresh in our collective memory, the value of a robust, reliable early warning system is undeniable. Now that the technology is cheap enough to create a distributed network of seismograph-alarms, it may actually be feasible for municipalities in earthquake-prone regions to start requiring systems like Brinco in their building codes.

Brinco’s Indiegogo campaign runs through August 22, and the device is expected to ship in July 2016. Recognizing that those who would most benefit from an early warning system aren’t always those who can afford one, several of the reward tiers allow backers to provide Brincos to schools or individuals in earthquake zones around the world.

Learn more in the video below.

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