Saturday, March 29, 2008


Nature ran an article about some researchers at Stanford in California that are creating a new distributed computing platform (think SETI@home) that uses computers equipped with accelerometers to detect earthquakes. Many modern laptops have them built in, and they'll soon be offering them at a cost to allow more machines to join their grid.

As the researchers have stated, the trick is just throwing more and more machines at the system, called the Quake-Catcher Network. The more machines they have, the less important it is for all those nodes to be accurate. When a laptop is picked up or moved, its not going to signal some alarm.

I find this particularly interesting because one of my favorite bloggers, the eminently badass Robert Hodgin over at Flight404, recently wrote about his interest in tracking quakes and what could be done with real-time data, lamenting the fact that the only way to get at such information cost thousands of dollars. A system like GCN has the potential to provide just such a service, partly due to the fact that it can be deployed for next to nothing. I hope they have the foresight to pass on those savings to the web community at large, and it would be especially wise to open source the whole thing. Imagine being able to hook into the system at a lower threshold and pick up on more localized events. It could be used for all sorts of potentially interesting things. Tie it in with some sort of news reporting and you can track the more-or-less exact location of an explosion. Expand the service to a place like my own (NYC!) and with enough users you might be able to keep track of the movement of trains underground. How neat would that be!?!?

I digress. This system is teeming with potential, and it really kind of makes me wish I lived on the other coast to be a part of it.

EDIT: Upon diving a tiny bit into the QCN website, QCN is built atop the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC!), as does SETI@home. It's open source!


Rachael said...

I like how my first interpretation of Quake! involves images of the FPS. ;)

Also, this is so "The Wealth of Networks". I love it!

Daniel said...

Glad I wasn't the only one for that game. :]

Yeah, I keep starting the wealth of networks and stopping. It keeps feeling like the same stuff I read all the time and I never feel like I'm learning something new. But that's an unfair judgement if I never get more than 30 pages in, so one of these days I'll just suck it up and plow through it. Then we can talk about it and be merry.