Mobile Computing

Scientists Develop Earthquake Detection App

Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, Deutsche Telekom Silicon Valley Innovation Laboratories and Utah State University have developed a free Android app that can help detect earthquakes and may eventually provide an early warning system for smartphone users.

The app, called MyShake, uses three accelerometers built into smartphones to detect movement caused by a quake. The app runs in the background and collects and analyzes information from the accelerometers. If the movement fits the vibrational profile of an earthquake, the phone sends the information along with phone's GPS coordinates to the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory. For now, the app only collects data, but if enough people install it and use it, the scientists said they anticipate upgrading it to include earthquake early-warning capabilities within a year. They also plan to release an iPhone version of the app.

Although the accelerometers in smartphones are far less sensitive than in-ground seismometers, they are sensitive enough to detect earthquakes with a magnitude of 5 or higher within a 10 kilometer radius, according to a news release from UC Berkeley. There are also far more smartphones than in-ground seismometers, so the scientists said they anticipate that the sheer volume of data will more than make up for the lack of device sensitivity.

"MyShake cannot replace traditional seismic networks like those run by the U.S. Geological Survey, UC Berkeley, the University of Washington and Caltech, but we think MyShake can make earthquake early warning faster and more accurate in areas that have a traditional seismic network, and can provide life-saving early warning in countries that have no seismic network," said Richard Allen, the leader of the app project and director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, in a news release.

The scientists who developed the app are Qingkai Kong and Richard Allen from UC Berkeley, Louis Schreier from Silicon Valley Innovation Laboratories and Young-Woo Kwon from Utah State University. They published a paper about the app in the February 2016 issue of Science Advances.

More information about the MyShake app can be found on UC Berkeley's site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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