A few years ago Hewlett Packard had the idea of covering the world with sensors to create a central nervous system for the Earth (CeNSE). Now Omron (Kyoto, Japan) has picked up the ball and invented the technologies to make that dream a reality in its description of new sensors and the infrastructure to tie them into a coherent whole at the Trillion Sensors Summit (TSensors 2015) in Celebration, Fla., (Dec. 9-10).
It all started before even the mass-market popularity of micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) sensors, when Omron won the contract to install three million ball-in-tube accelerometers inside the gas meters around the most earthquake prone areas of Japan. The idea was to sense the severity of their almost daily seismic activity and shut down the gas to homes that may have been damaged enough to potentially have gas leaks, thus averting what are called secondary disasters after earthquakes—in this case gas fires and explosions.
“In Japan we have many earthquakes,” Yoshi Sekiguchi, senior general manager of Micro Devices at Omron Corporation headquarters told the attendees in his presentation at (TSensors 2015). “However, the secondary disasters, such as tsunami's and fires, are often more serious than the original.”
Most buildings in Japan—even skyscrapers—have elaborate earthquake protection measures. Besides extra steel reinforcement inside concrete, some even go to the extreme of mounting their foundations on gigantic spring-like structures to allow the foundation to remain intact even with extreme swaying that would cause most buildings to collapse.
“Throughout Japan we have 4,377 seismic sensors already, but that is not nearly enough,” Sekiguchi said. “What were need are much smaller, higher accuracy, lower cost systems to expand the network.”
As mentioned, Omron already has three million earthquake detectors in gas meters in Japan, but now they are moving beyond the outdated moving ball technology. To upgrade, down size and lower the cost of deploying millions more seismic sensors. Omron turned to its now time-proven MEMS foundry for three axis accelerometers are build, then added built-in algorithms to filter, integrate and spectrally recognize the signature of the most dangerous earthquakes, according to Sekiguchi.
Omron's proposal, besides upgrading the existing ball-based gas meter sensors, is to also built the same platform—with slight modifications, into electric meters—to shut off electricity to prevent electrical fires, plus provide battery powered backup monitoring to continue monitoring tremors in order to maintain situational awareness of all disaster aftermaths.