Xiaomi adds Chinese earthquake warning system to smartphones • The Register


Xiaomi has added an earthquake warning system to some of its smartphones, starting with a trial in Indonesia, following a collaboration between the smartphone maker and agencies backed by the Indonesian and Chinese governments.

Available on handsets running versions 12, 12.5 and 13 of Xiaomi’s “MIUI” Android fork, the Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) feature alerts users in Indonesia to nearby tremors – if they have data service and authorize the service.

The Chinese phone maker says the system “gives people seconds to tens of seconds of warning time before secondary waves arrive, by taking advantage of the speed of electrical waves which is naturally much faster than the speed of the secondary waves”.

An earthquake alert on a Xiaomi handset.

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Users in affected areas receive on-screen and audible warnings – the former detailing the magnitude, estimated time of arrival and intensity of an impending earthquake. The service only triggers for earthquakes rated four or higher on Mercalli’s Modified Intensity Scale. If that sounds a bit lighthearted to you, know that Indonesia is the most volcanically active country on Earth and small rumbles are extremely common.

The same goes for the big ones, thanks to the country’s position on the Circum-Pacific seismic belt. The United States Geological Survey records more than 150 earthquakes in Indonesia with a magnitude greater than seven between 1901 and 2019, which equates to about one every nine months. Earthquakes of this magnitude are the ones you’ve heard about in the news, along with thousands of deaths and repair bills that run into the billions.

The EEW system is a collaboration between the Institute of Care-Life (ICL) in Chengdu, China, and the Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

Supported by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, ICL began working on the technology in 2008. The organization said it successfully sent out up to 65 warnings of destructive earthquakes in China without any false alarms. More than a decade after development began, ICL has partnered with BMKG to do the same for Indonesia.

In China, notifications appear on the Internet once the user has installed the appropriate technology, such as an opt-in version of the US Emergency Broadcast System. ICL has extended the earthquake alarm system technology to 13 cities and prefectures in Sichuan.

The Indonesian version goes even further in this modernization by partnering with Xiaomi. Although Indonesia is the second market in the world to receive the EEW, it is the first nation to use it with smartphones. Chinese state-funded research organizations are therefore helping Xiaomi differentiate itself in the world’s fourth most populous country and 16th largest economy (and growing rapidly on both metrics).

Efforts have already been made to alert people to earthquakes and other natural disasters. In 2016, an app from UC Berkely and Deutsche Telekom used the accelerometers built into modern smartphones to detect seismic activity and alert users.

This app, called MyShake, received mixed reactions – users reported that it ate battery power and gave repeated warnings, sometimes with no warnings.

The designers of MyShake have freely admitted that their technology cannot replace traditional seismic networks, whereas EEW relies on these traditional systems.

As Xiaomi explained:

“This special function exists because Indonesia is one of the countries prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis,” Xiaomi said.

Xiaomi’s director for Indonesia, Alvin Tse, thanked the Indonesian government for its support, adding, “Through this initiative, we hope we can help Indonesians and give back to the local community.” ®


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