Technology

MyShake Smartphone App Detects Earthquake

MyShake App: Scientists at the University of California-Berkeley have developed an app that will see the sensors in smartphones detecting when an earthquake begins and sharing this data with scientists in real time.

MyShake Smartphone App Detects Earthquake

MyShake the free Android app to benefit users and earthquake researchers

As someone who feels earthquakes multiple times each month, I can attest to how quick friends take to Facebook, perhaps Twitter I don’t use it, to report on earthquakes especially when we get a big one (Guatemala).

The app which can be downloaded for free at Google Play or at http://myshake.berkeley.edu/, is a product of the University of Berkeley Seismology Lab and will turn your phone into a data collection point for scientists using the sensors built into your phone. Your phone will then share this information when a quake of 5.0 or higher (on the Richter Scale) occurs.

The researchers hope that this real-time sharing will allow them to warn others that will experience the quake in a matter of seconds or minutes.

“This is a citizens’ science project,” said Richard Allen, director of the Seismological Laboratory at UC Berkeley. “This is an app that provides information, education, motivation — to the people who’ve downloaded it — to get ready for earthquakes. Those same people are contributing to our further understanding of earthquakes, because they’re collecting data that will help us better understand the earthquake process.”

How does it work?

Using the accelerometers built into to nearly all Android phones, the scientists believe that they have developed an algorithm that will definitively and accurately know when an earthquake has begun. The team behind its development are confident that the app will understand the difference between a phone shaking about in a purse, or in my case, when I’m driving a moped on cobblestone streets here in Antigua, Guatemala, a city that has been destroyed by an earthquake an three separate occasions.

Once the phone is convinced an earthquake over 5.0 is occurring it will send this information to a central server at Berkeley. The app is not terrifically groundbreaking as the U.S. Geological Survey has already tested its $38 million system on the West Coast called ShakeAlert which actually gave researchers in San Francisco an eight second warning before a Napa Country quake began shaking the City by the Bay. That system’s cut-off is earthquakes of at least 6.0 in magnitude.

Those behind ShakeAlert hope that their early warning system will someday send messages to trains telling the conductor to slow down or even doing it automatically, or see that information used by elevators to stop at the next floor in order to avoid trapping users.

MyShake will not be as accurate as ShakeAlert, which has hundreds of earthquake specific sensors installed underground. The problem is that Shake Alert costs $16 million a year to operate and the federal government is only footing half of that. The rest needs to come from California, Oregon and Washington and those states have yet to provide funding to the system.

However, there are many areas of the world prone to earthquakes but have no advanced sensors installed underground. The researchers are hoping that MyShake will help in these regions.

Nepal has almost no seismic stations. But they have 6 million smartphones. There are 600,000 smartphones in Kathmandu alone,” Allen said. “So if we can get MyShake working, then we could potentially be providing early warning in Kathmandu.”

In addition to the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, MyShake was developed with the help of Silicon Valley Innovation Laboratories of Mountain View, California. No decision has been made as to whether or not to develop an app that would see iPhones able to add to this smartphone earthquake data collection system.