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PC hard drive system could warn of tsunamis

Software monitors vibrations that could indicate an earthquake

By John Blau
September 7, 2006 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Governments seeking inexpensive technology to warn of tsunamis may be interested in a free application that monitors vibrations in the hard disks of computers in an effort to detect undersea earthquakes that cause tsunamis.

The Tsunami Harddisk Detector is the brainchild of Michael Stadler, who demonstrated the prototype system earlier this week at the Ars Electronica exhibition in Linz, Austria.

As part of their operation, hard disks measure vibrations in order to keep the read-write head of the disk on track. These measurements can be read from some hard disks. The Tsunami Harddisk Detector captures this vibration data and shares it with computers in other locations connected via a peer-to-peer (P2P) network to determine whether an earth tremor is occurring.

In the P2P network, several participating computers act as supernodes, which analyze the data received from the other "sensing" nodes. The supernodes are able to ignore vibrations generated by a computer being kicked or shaken by recording how many computers report the same vibrations simultaneously.

If an earthquake that could lead to a tsunami is detected, the supernodes inform the other nodes. Computers that are running the client software and are connected to the P2P network can then warn of such events.

The software is able to provide such warnings because the seismic waves produced by earthquakes travel at about 3,100 miles per hour, while tsunamis move much slower at 300 to 600 miles per hour, Stadler explained on his Web site. The speed difference leaves time to evaluate tremors and, if necessary, warn of a tsunami.

On his site, however, Stadler points out that his system is still in the experimental stage with some inherent problems and can't be fully relied on to provide a "serious prediction" of a tsunami risk in its present configuration.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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