Earlier this month, an Italian appeals court overturned the manslaughter conviction of six earthquake scientists; they had previously been found guilty for what a judge called a faulty forecast, ahead of a deadly quake that killed over 300 people in 2009. A seventh panel member’s guilty verdict was upheld; the deputy director of the Civil Protection agency had urged locals to have “a nice glass of Montepulcaino” wine and ignore the small tremors that were felt in the weeks leading up to the 6.3-magnitude quake. Many in the scientific community thought it was egregious the men were charged in the first place, but what has never been up for debate is that early warnings save lives.
Mexico City suffered an even more devastating earthquake in 1985; it killed 10,000 people and measured 8.1 on the Richter Scale. Six years later, the SASMEX facility — Mexico’s seismic alert system — began operation. Since then, the data gathered from the system has been used to warn of 13 earthquakes, in some instances giving residents over a minute of preparation time.
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to the government’s early-warning system. When they detect tremors, sensors along the Pacific coast alert nearby cities, which in turn broadcast the warning on a radio frequency and on TV. SASMEX receivers cost over $300, according to CNN, and many Mexicans cannot afford them. A new device called Grillo, the Spanish word for cricket, can fill in the gaps in SASMEX’s system.
Designed by architect Andres Meira, the $59 cube picks up the signal and rebroadcasts it without delay. A hard-to-miss alarm sounds, complete with flashing light. Designed to be “set it and forget it,” the Grillo only requires a yearly battery change, like a smoke detector. The device was successfully funded on Fondeadora, which is a Kickstarter-like campaign site in Mexico. Now, Meira and the Grillo team hope to go further with the Girllo Active.
Right now the Grillo only covers certain areas, because SASMEX’s sensors aren’t ubiquitous. It’s Grillo’s mission to change that. Using Wi-Fi and motion detectors, the little orange devices will act as sensors all over Mexico, improving the alert system. Seismographs usually cost $20,000; the Grillo Active is manufactured for $50. Its low price and operating requirements, namely, Internet, means that the device has the potential to substantially increase the early-warning system’s coverage.
And because earthquakes are a worldwide problem, Grillo hopes to export the technology to other vulnerable countries. The Grillo Active is currently looking for investors.