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Taiwan team builds earthquake detector

A RESEARCH team at a Taiwan university has come up with a low-budget device that can sense earthquakes within 30 seconds, enough time to issue crucial disaster warnings, the lead inventor said yesterday.

The device can detect an oncoming earthquake's speed and acceleration and allow enough time to estimate its eventual magnitude and warn trains to slow down or natural gas companies to shut off supplies, said Wu Yih-min, a researcher at the Taiwan University Department of Geosciences.

The tool is more precise than similar technology used overseas, and could cost as little as T$10,000 (US$302), said Wu, whose research team built the device after about five years of study.

"We can tell within 30 seconds whether it's going to be a big or small quake," Wu said in Taipei.

"We can sense the scale and how much damage it's likely to cause."

The device, which would be fastened to a place unlikely to be shaken by forces other than earthquakes, uses a chip that costs just a few dollars, Wu said.

Schools, railway systems and nuclear power plants would benefit from the technology, said Kuo Kai-wen, seismological center director with Taiwan's weather bureau, which helped the university test the device. Researchers must now figure out how to link it to computerized alert systems, Kuo said.

Taiwan is prone to earthquakes, logging 20 minor ones in the past two weeks.


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