Two years ago this month, the great Indian Ocean tsunami took 229,866 lives. Could the next big wave be predicted by the same technology that lets us share music and TV shows illegally? An Austrian researcher, Michael Stadler, 33, is developing a peer-to-peer software program that measures hard-drive vibrations in computers around the world to sense earthquake activity. A friend's hard-disk failure started his investigation; the tragedy in Asia spurred him to action.
The advantage of Stadler's TsunamiHDD over traditional seismography is that you don't need expensive equipment—standard PCs will do. "The big disaster in the Indian Ocean was caused because the states could not afford an expensive warning system," Stadler says. His first experiment, in 2006, attracted 800 users around the world and won him a jury prize from the Ars Electronica festival. He's currently working to improve the system's accuracy and seeking funding to do more research. If Stadler succeeds, perhaps one day we'll say, "Hard disks—they're not just for data storage anymore."
“P2P technology is an untapped gold mine for a variety of markets and applications in terms of resource conservation and security. The entertainment industry should be embracing this kind of tech, not belittling it.” —Paul Greatbatch
A version of this article appeared in the December 2006/January 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.