Hall Effect-based Seismometer, Sanity Check Experiments

PS. Oops! I made a silly mistake in the breadboarding, if you look closely at the photo you can see that the 10k ground resistor at the input of the op amp is going to + input, not – as intended. Which kind of messes up all my measurements. Hey ho. I have since made a ball-bearing in a jar (1 axis) sensor and roughed out a signal conditioning circuit (which will now need tweaking…), so will repeat the experiment here and do another post asap.

A fun part of this project is the investigation of hardware possibilities for detecting seismic events and ELF/VLF signals. Even though I’m aiming towards minimum budget hardware, my funds for this have been virtually non-existent so I’ve not got much done (grumble, grumble).

For a seismometer, the requirements as it seems to me, are: simplicity, reasonable sensitivity and low cost. Ideally I want to monitor all 3 dimensions with relatively wide bandwidth. A non-requirement is any kind of absolute accuracy or calibrated measurement.

There are a variety of options for seismic sensors, most that I’ve seen fall down for these requirements in one way or another. I won’t go into them here – try searching for accelerometers (low sensitivity), geophones (expensive), pendulum-based systems (complicated build, 3 dimensions would be very tricky…). To give a ballpark, prices for a ready-made seismometer system based on the Raspberry Pi, the Raspberry Shake, start at $375 USD. That’s for one dimension, using a geophone sensor.

Almost a year ago I sketched out an idea for something that might work.


At the time I picked up a linear Hall Effect device from Jaycar, a UGN3503UA, costing just $7.75 AUS. It’s in case very like a transistor, just 3 pins : +ve, -ve power and output. An example use in the datasheet uses the same principle as I want to exploit:


A magnet is glued to the back of the sensor. As a (ferrous material) cog approaches the sensor, the magnetic field increases, correspondingly increasing the devices output voltage.

The other day a bag of ball bearings arrived. I just got around to having a play. This is what the setup looked like:


I’ve got the Hall Effect device soldered to a connector to make breadboarding easier. On the left of it is a blob of Blue Tack attaching a 1cm diameter/3mm deep neodymium magnet. On the right, a 5/8″ steel ball precision mounted between my finger & thumb.

Right now I’ve only got a crude +/- homebrew power supply, so I’m using an op amp to buffer a potential divider to provide a lower voltage to suite the device. Another op amp is used to provide a 10x amplifier from the output of the device.

When I put the magnet in direct contact with the sensor it saturated it at one extreme or the other. I seemed to get best results with around 1cm space in between. With a 5.2v supply to the sensor, this led to a no-magnet output of 2.52v (after the 10x amplification). With the magnet, this changed to 3.07v or 1.76v depending on polarity. With the ball bearing at 1cm away this changed by approx 0.01/0.02v, steadily increasing from there to 3.50/1.22v when the ball bearing touched the sensor.

This sensitivity was less than I’d hoped, but will hopefully be enough to be usable if I tweak a few of the components. I reckon it’s definitely worth going for a prototype, see how it behaves in practice.

I’ll need to find a very small jar 🙂

Here are my full notes:






Preconditioning Seismic Data

The filtered data I have is CSV with lots of lines with the fields :

datetime, latitude, longitude, depth, magnitude

The latter 4 fields will slot in as they are, but a characteristic of seismic events is that they can occur at any time. Say today 4 events were detected at the following times:

E1 01:15:07 lat1 long1 d1 2.2
E2 01:18:06 lat2 long2 d2 3.1
E3 01:20:05 lat3 long3 d3 2.1
E4 08:15:04 lat4 long4 d4 3.5

To get the data in a shape that can act as input to a neural network (my first candidate is PredNet), it seems like there are two main options:

Time Windows

Say we decide on a 6 hour window starting at 00:00. Then E1, E2, E3 will fall in one window, E4 the next.  Which leads to the question of how to aggregate the first 3 events. Often events are geographically clustered, a large event will be associated with nearby foreshocks and aftershocks. For a first stab at this, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume such clustering will be the typical case. With this assumption, the data collapses down to :

[00:00-06:00] E2 lat2 long2 d2 3.1
[06:00-12:00] E4 lat4 long4 d4 3.5

This is lossy, so if say E1 and E2 were in totally different locations, the potentially useful information of E1 would be lost. A more sophisticated strategy would be to look for local clustering – not difficult in itself (check Euclidian distances), but then the question would be how to squeeze several event clusters into one time slot. As it stands it’s a simple strategy, and worth a try I reckon.

Time Differences

This strategy would involve a little transformation, like so:

E1[datetime]-E0[datetime] = ? lat1 long1 d1 2.2
E2[datetime]-E1[datetime] = 00:03:01 lat2 long2 d2 3.1
E3[datetime]-E2[datetime] = 00:02:01 lat3 long3 d3 2.1
E4[datetime]-E3[datetime] = 07:05:01 lat4 long4 d4 3.5

Now I must confess I really don’t know how much sense this makes, but it is capturing all the information, so it might just work. Again, it’s pretty simple and also worth a try.

I’d very much welcome comments and suggestions on this – do these strategies make sense? Are there any others that might be worth a try?


Seismic Data – fixed?

As described in my last post, I was seeing significant gaps in the seismic event data I was retrieving from the INGV service. So I re-read their docs. Silly me, I’d missed the option to include query arguments restricting the geo area of the events (I had code in a subsequent script doing this).

While tweaking the code to cover these parameters I also spotted a really clumsy mistake. I had a function doing more or less this –

for each event element in XML DOM:
        extract event data
        add event data to list
        return list

D’oh! Should have been –

for each event element in XML DOM:
        extract event data
        add event data to list
return list

I’ve also improved error handling considerably, discriminating between genuine HTTP errors and HTTP 204 No Content. Now I’ve narrowed the geo area and reduced the time window for each GET down to 1 hour, there are quite a lot of 204s.

I’m now running it over the time period around the l’Aquila quakes as a sanity check. Jeez, 20+ events in some hours, 10+ in most.

Assuming this works ok, I’ll run it over the whole 1997-2017 preiod, hopefully in ~12 hours time I’ll have some usable data.

PS. Looking good, for the 30 days following that of the l’Aquila big one, it produced:

in_zone_count = 8877
max_depth = 62800.0
max_magnitude = 6.1




Seismic Data Wrangling

Following my interim plan of proceeding software-only (until I’ve the funds to get back to playing with hardware), I’ve been looking at getting seismic event data from the INGV Web Service into a Keras/Tensorflow implementation of PredNet.

My code is on GitHub, and rather than linking to individual files which I may rename, I’ll put a README over there with pointers.

As a first step, I put together code to pull of the data and dump it down to simple CSV files. This appeared to be working. The demo implementation of PredNet takes HDF5 data from the KITTI  vision dataset (videos from a car on road around Karlsruhe), extracting it into numpy arrays, with the PredNet engine using Keras. To keep things simple I wanted to follow the same approach. I’m totally new to HDF5 so pinged Bill Lotter of the PredNet project for clues. He kindly gave me some helpful tips, and concurred with what I’d been thinking – keep the CSV data, process that into something PredNet can consume.

The data offered by the Web Service is good XML delivered over HTTP (props to INGV). But it does include a lot of material (provenance, measurement accuracy etc) that isn’t needed here. So my service-to-CSV code parses out just the relevant parts, producing a line for each event:

datetime, latitude, longitude, depth, magnitude


2007-01-02T05:28:38.870000, 43.612, 12.493, 7700, 1.7

I couldn’t find the info anywhere, but it appears that the INGV service records go back at least to somewhere in the early 1990’s, so I chose 1997-01-01T00:00:00 as a convenient start datetime, giving me 20 years of events.

For this to be a similar shape to what PredNet expects, I will aggregate events within a particular time period (actually I think taking the most significant event in that period). I reckon 6 hour periods should be about right. This also seemed a reasonable window for calling the service (not). I’ll filter down the events to just those within the region of interest (northern Italy, see earlier post)  and then scale the latitude & longitude to an easy integer range (probably [128, 128]). For a first pass I’ll ignore the depth field.

As it happens, I’m well on the way to having implemented this. But along the way I did a few sanity checks, eg. checking for maximum event magnitude in the region of interest, (I got 4.1), and it turned out I was missing some rather significant data points.  Here’s one I checked for:

The 2009 L’Aquila earthquake occurred in the region of Abruzzo, in central Italy. The main shock occurred at 03:32 CEST (01:32 UTC) on 6 April 2009, and was rated 5.8 or 5.9 on the Richter magnitude scale and 6.3 on the moment magnitude scale; its epicentre was near L’Aquila, the capital of Abruzzo, which together with surrounding villages suffered most damage.

Nope, it wasn’t in the CSV, but the Web Service knows all about it:


Doing a service call for that whole day:


–  yields 877 events – nightmare day!

I’d set the timeout on the HTTP calls to 2 seconds, but there is so much data associated with each event that this was woefully inadequate. Since upped to 5 mins.

Manually checking calls, I was also sometimes getting a HTTP Status Code of 413 Request Entity Too Large. This puzzled me mightily – still does actually. It says request entity, not requested (or response) entity, but the way it’s behaving is that the response requested is too large. Either way I reckon the spec (latest is RFC7231) is a little open to misinterpretation here. (What the heck – I’ve mailed the IEFT HTTP list about it – heh, well well, I’ve co-chaired something with the chair…).

Anyhow, I’ve also tweaked the code to make calls over just 1 hour windows, hopefully it’ll now get the stuff it was missing.

Hmm…I’ve got it running now and it’s giving errors throughout the year 2000, which should be trouble-free. I think I’ll have to have it make several passes/retries to ensure I get the maximum data available.

Drat! It’s giving me Entity Too Large with just 1 hour windows, e.g.


I need to fix this…





Candidate Neural Network Architecture : PredNet

While I sketched out a provisional idea of how I reckoned the network could look, I’m doing what I can to avoid reinventing the wheel. As it happens there’s a Deep Learning problem with implemented solutions that I believe is close enough to the earthquake prediction problem to make a good starting point : predicting the next frame(s) in a video. You train the network on a load of sample video data, then at runtime give it a short sequence and let it figure out what happens next.

This may seem a bit random, but I think I have good justification. The kind of videos people have been working with are things like human movement or motion of a car. (Well, I’ve seen one notable, fun, exception : Adversarial Video Generation is applied to the activities of Mrs. Pac-Man). In other words, a projection of objects obeying what is essentially Newtonian physics. Presumably seismic events follow the same kind of model. As mention in my last post, I’m currently planning on using online data that places seismic events on a map – providing the following: event time, latitude, longitude, depth and magnitude. The video prediction nets generally operate over time on x, y with R, G, B for colour. Quite a similar shape of data.

So I had a little trawl of what was out there.  There are a surprisingly wide variety of strategies, but one in particular caught my eye : PredNet. This is described in the paper Deep Predictive Coding Networks for Video Prediction and Unsupervised Learning (William Lotter, Gabriel Kreiman & David Cox from Harvard) and has supporting code etc. on GitHub. Several things about it appealed to me. It’s quite an elegant conceptual structure, which translates in practice into a mix of convnets/RNNs, not too far from what I anticipated needing for this application. This (from the paper) might give you an idea:


Another plus from my point of view was that the demo code is written using Keras on Tensorflow, exactly what I was intending to use.

Yesterday I had a go at getting it running.  Right away I hit a snag: I’ve got this laptop set up for Tensorflow etc. on Python 3, but the code uses hickle.py, which uses Python 2. I didn’t want to risk messing up my current setup (took ages to get working) so had a go at setting up a Docker container – Tensorflow has an image. Day-long story short, something wasn’t quite right. I suspect the issues I had related to nvidia-docker, needed to run on GPUs.

Earlier today I decided to have a look at what would be needed to get the PredNet code Python3-friendly. Running kitti-train.py (Kitti is the demo data set) led straight to an error in hickle.py. Nothing to lose, had a look. “Hickle is a HDF5 based clone of Pickle, with a twist. Instead of serializing to a pickle file, Hickle dumps to a HDF5 file.“. There is a note saying there’s Python3 support in progress, but the cause of the error turned out to be –

if isinstance(f, file):

file isn’t a thing in Python3. But kitti-train.py was only passing a filename to this, via data-utils.py, so I just commented out the lines associated with the isinstance. (I guess I should fix it properly, feed back to Hickle’s developer.)

It worked! Well, at least for kitti-train.py. I’ve got it running in the background as I type. This laptop only has a very wimpy GPU (GeForce 920M) and it took a couple of tweaks to prevent near-immediate out of memory errors:


kitty_train.py, line 35
batch_size = 2 #was 4

It’s taken about an hour to get to epoch 2/150, but I did renice Python way down so I could get on with other things.

Seismic Data

I’ve also spent a couple of hours on the (seismic) data-collecting code. I’d foolishly started coding around this using Javascript/node, simply because it was the last language I’d done anything similar with. I’ve got very close to having it gather & filter blocks of from the INGV service and dump to (csv) file. But I reckon I’ll just ditch that and recode it in Python, so I can dump to HDF5 directly – it does seem a popular format around the Deep Learning community.

Radio Data

Yes, that to think about too.

My gut feeling is that applying Deep Learning to the seismic data alone is likely to be somewhat useful for predictions. From what I’ve read, the current approaches being taken (in Italy at least) are effectively along these lines, leaning towards traditional statistical techniques. No doubt some folks are applying Deep Learning to the problem. But I’m hoping that bringing in radio precursors will make a major difference in prediction accuracy.

So far I have in mind generating spectrograms from the VLF/ELF signals. Which gives a series of images…sound familiar? However, I suspect that there won’t be quantitatively all that much information coming from this source (though qualitatively, I’m assuming vital).  As a provisional plan I’m thinking of pushing it through a few convnet/pooling layers to get the dimensionality way down, then adding that data as another input to the  PredNet.

Epoch 3/150 – woo-hoo!


It was taking way too long for my patience, so I changed the parameters a bit more:

nb_epoch = 50 # was 150
batch_size = 2 # was 4
samples_per_epoch = 250 # was 500
N_seq_val = 100 # number of sequences to use for validation

It took ~20 hours to train. For kitti_evaluate.py, it has produced some results, but also exited with an error code. Am a bit too tired to look into it now, but am very pleased to get a bunch of these:




New Strategy for Seismic Data

I’m a massive procrastinator and not a very quick thinker. There is something positive about all this. I’ve barely looked at code in the past few weeks, but have been thinking about it, and may well have saved some time. (I usually get there in the end…).

The neural net setup I had in mind was based on the assumption that I’d have my own, local, data sources (sensors). But hardware is still on hold until I find some funds. So I’ve been re-evaluating how best to use existing online data.

Now I am pleased with the idea of taking the VLF radio data as spectrograms and treating them (conceptually) as images, so I can exploit existing Deep Learning setups. If I’m not getting the seismic data as time series from a local sensor(s) but from INGV, I can use the same trick. They have a nice straightforward Web Service offering Open Data as QuakeML (XML) over HTTP from URL queries. They also render it like this:


So I’m thinking of taking the magnitude & depth data from the web service and placing it in a grid (say 256×256) derived from the geo coordinates. To handle the time aspect, for each cell in the grid I reckon picking the max magnitude event over each 6 (?) hour window. And then (conceptually) treating this as a pixel map. I need to read up a little more, but this looks again like something that might well yield to convnets, constructed very like the radio data input.


I made a little start on coding this up. First thing was to decide what area I wanted to monitor. Key considerations were: it must include here (self-preservation!); it must cover a fair distance around the VLF data monitoring station who’s data I’m going to use (Renato Romero’s, here); it should include the main seismically active regions likely to impact those two places.

You can get an idea of the active regions from the map above, here’s another one showing estimated risk:


In one of the papers I’ve read that the radio precursors are only really significant for a 100km or so (to be confirmed), so I’ve chosen the area between the 4 outer markers here:


This corresponds to latitude 40N-47N, longitude 7E-15E.

The marker middle-left is the VLF station, the one in the middle is where I live.

It looked like the kind of thing where I could easily get my lats & longs mixed up so I coded up the little map using Google Maps, was very easy, source – rendered it on JSFiddle.

Next I need to get the code together to make the services requests, filter & aggregate the seismic event data is some convenient for ready for network training.