Chilean teen builds automatic earthquake alarm


When an earthquake is about to strike in Chile, who do you think is first to sound the alarm? You might be surprised that it’s not the government, but rather a 14 year old boy.

After living through an earthquake in 2010 and seeing the devastation this spring in Japan, Chilean teenager [Sebastian Alegria] decided that he wanted to construct something similar to Japan’s earthquake warning system. He purchased an off the shelf earthquake detector for less than $100, and connected it to his computer via an Arduino.

Now, whenever seismic activity is detected, his sensor tweets an alert letting his 29,000+ followers know that a perceptible earthquake is 5 to 30 seconds away. Apparently the Chilean government is working on a similar system that is still at least a year away, so in the meantime his fellow citizens rely on [Sebastian] instead.

While it might seem like a relatively easy hack to pull off compared to other earthquake detectors, we’re impressed by [Sebastian’s] creativity, and his will to help others. He’s been pounding away at computers since he was about 4 years old and has several other popular Twitter-based projects under his belt already, so we won’t be surprised if we hear from him again in the future.


  1. Lee says:

    I wondered how it worked so I checked their website: kudo’s for the kid hooking it up to an arduino. Half of me says congrats to the kit. The other half of me says it’s not a hack in the sense he didn’t make the detector. But I know that same half is just jealous that I’m older and unaccomplished (in the worlds eyes at least).

  2. Ghostrock says:

    This is one cool kid! He’s even wearing a linux Debian t-shirt!

  3. supershwa says:

    Way to go Sebastian!

    Seeing great accomplishments from people as young as this gives me relief that the future isn’t doomed by idiocy… :D

    Great stuff — awesome article!

  4. Donrata says:

    Great for the Debian t-shirt, and great seeing hacks from Chile.

  5. mess_maker says:

    I am AMAZED… at how clean his desk is. :D

    As for the project, it is nice to see that he is coming up with ideas and learning to implement them. Good for him, I can’t wait to see what else he does.

    Now that the rapid prototype portion of his project is, seemingly, done. I would like to see him take the next step and move this from an arduino to a dedicated avr chip and board. I think he would gain a lot from that experience and possibly help him figure out his next project.

  6. Kyle says:

    Just wanted to leave a comment on the awesomeness of his shirt. :)

  7. MS3FGX says:

    I’m really liking this one. It might not be as technically impressive as some other projects; but the fact that he is helping so many people and doing it faster than his government could get their act together, make it more than worthy for these pages.

  8. Lee says:

    @MS3FGX Exactly what I was thinking, such a simple thing benefiting thousands!

  9. Bobby J says:

    “He purchased an off the shelf earthquake detector for less than $100…”

    I hope the entire project costs less than $100. Those detectors are only $30.

  10. Lee says:

    Maybe not in Chile? Import tax?

  11. ss says:

    Awesome! Very well done! Muchas felicitaciones por lo que hiciste!

  12. daniel_reetz says:

    Great idea and great hack. Congratulations, man.

  13. Bobby J says:

    You believe Chili has a 233% import tax? Really? Google is your friend.

  14. Lee says:

    uh. I was being sarcastic? You believe everything you read online?

  15. Congratulations on your innovative work. still perfecting your work that will benefit our country Chile.

  16. cgimark says:

    That is a lot of cash for an earthquake sensor that can be built for under $1.

    You only need attach a nut to a length of wire, like from a clothes hanger. That gives the end some mass so it will want to remain still. Suspend the wire inside a ring made of some metal, a washer will work. The smaller the hole in the washer compared to the wire size the more sensitive the sensor. Attach both to a surface and one wire to the clothes hanger wire and another to the washer. When the object is moved the nut on the end will want to remain still because of its mass and it being at rest but the washer will be moving and the wire and washer will complete the circuit.

    It is the same way sensors work in car alarms to detect when someone bumps the car.

  17. Rollyn01 says:

    If he was to hook up two more, he would probably be able to tell its epicenter, not to mention its type. That would require an avr though. Nice thinking for taking the initiative to fo something about it.

  18. krpalospo says:

    hey… awesome T-Shirt

  19. KillerBug says:

    LoL…it takes the government a year to setup a Twitter account and hook up an off-the-shelf detector? Yeah, that does sound like most governments…

  20. Hirudinea says:

    @KillerBug – Actually the government hasn’t set its system up yet, and you know it will cost billions, be run by thousands and not be a tenth as good as this one. Hackers One, Bureaucrats minus Several Trillion, as usual.

  21. Batou says:

    I can’t believe noone posted this:

  22. Hackerspacer says:

    I personally like to get my earthquake alerts with 5 to 30 seconds max time before the quake hits AND be reliant on twitter functioning for it to work. Cool idea though – needs a bit of improvement though.

  23. M H says:

    The earthquake alarm involved sounds rather suspect. (Their web site has hardly any information, and one poorly punctuated testimonial. ) False alarms – one of the major problems of earthquake detection are not even mentioned. (Bad case of confirmation bias.)

    The quake catcher network

    seems apropos – using large number of sensors for filtering. (But there don’t seem to be many QCN volunteers in Chile at the moment.)

    @Batou – nice cartoon.

  24. Khanzerbero says:

    @M H thay are currently out of sensors and apparently ive found no way to have its schematics

  25. Taylor Alexander says:

    You know what I use for an earthquake detector? MY FEET!

    Haha just kidding, neat project. :)

  26. D_ says:

    A great effort, but his efforts can only be as reliable as the detector he has chosen to rely on. The web page for the detector doesn’t really instill confidence for me.

  27. M H says:

    @Khanzerbero –
    The QCN sensors actually come from codemetrics – (don’t know if they have stock).

    Or one could create a driver for some other accelerometer, like the wiimote. I wondered if the accelerometer on the TI FRAM experimenter board MSP-EXP430FR5739 would work.

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