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.

27 thoughts on “Chilean Teen Builds Automatic Earthquake Alarm

  1. 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. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. @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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

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