We took a look at the Quake Catcher Network back in its infancy and now it's making a real impact. QCN takes advantage of the accelerometers most modern laptops have built-in for protection, and puts them to use measuring seismic activity. The data is uploaded onto a central network for study, and tracked by way of a handy map.
A single laptop's accelerometer can't match up to an industrial-strength seismic detector that's sensitive to earthquake activity for miles. In a network, however, QCN's laptop grid, 1,500-strong, forms a surprisingly sensitive web, and one that costs researchers virtually nothing. The cheap sensor net has already recorded quite a bit, from moderate shakes to a July quake in Los Angeles that rated 5.4 on the Richter scale.
Still, the grid does have its shortcomings. The addition of GPS technology into laptops, for instance, would give QCN a lot more accuracy — but that seems right around the corner, anyway. It's a genius project that uses existing technology that'll only improve as consumer electronics do.