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Mobile App That Can Detect Earthquakes

by Andrew Larson
Published 3-1-2016

One of my biggest reasons for being in software and technology is for the amazing potential that the field holds. Life changing solutions exist right around corner and and new applications that shape our society are being discovered everyday. Here's a good one we dug up: MyShake. 

MyShake can detect and analyze nearby quake activity.  It can estimate the earthquake's location and magnitude in real-time.  Further, it can relay that information to a database for scientists to interpret. Once an established network of users is garnered, MyShake could be an early warning detection system, according to researchers and computer programmers.  

Outsourced Quake Detection

A network already exists for tracking seismic activity and earthquakes around the world.  This network conveys data to scientists 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It provides a picture of the ongoing seismic activity on Earth.  However, in some places of the globe the network is offline or lacks service if you will. 

People could become part of the network to fill in the gaps of missing areas and use their smartphones to send data directly to scientists with the MyShake app.  Eventually the app would be used as an early warning detection system for everyone.  Right now it does not have that capability.

Here's the Best Part - Smartphones Already Have the Tools

Programmers recognized that they could use the accelerometer that is already built in to every smartphone to record earthquake data.  The accelerometer measures force in relationship to acceleration.  This includes vibrations and movement.  It also understands tilt and the force of gravitational pull.  The accelerometer is currently used to orient your device screen.  When you turn the phone from vertical to horizontal, an accelerometer detects the motion change and flips the visual screen so you can see it correctly. 

Basically think of it like the step counter app on your phone for fitness.  It can pinpoint changes in motion so it can calculate the number of steps you take each day.  The MyShake app is designed to recognize the signature shaking of an earthquake when the accelerometer alerts to it.  The shaking of an earthquake is very different from the shaking of other type of motion.  It will look at the amplitude and frequency of the data.  The energy for a an earthquake is low-frequency and lower amplitude than daily activities. 

What Happens Then?

When the app detects and earthquake, it will send an alert to a web-based data collection site.  This process occurs immediately.  Incoming data from multiple sources are used to identify an earthquake, its location, and give an estimate about the magnitude of the quake. They hope to develop future versions of the mobile app software that can actually send warnings back to app users. An iphone version is planned in the near future.   

With more data from many more sources, scientists and application developers can better undertand earthquake behavior to help protect lives and property.  These design enhancements to the software could include early warning systems and response measures.  Finally, with almost 3 billion smartphones in the world, there are plenty of phones to download the app to and give scientists great life-saving informational data about the seismic activity in a particular location. 

The mobile application runs silently in the background of your phone and uses very little power.  When shaking fits the profile of seismic earthquake activity, the application software will send anonymous information to a central global network where it is analzyed and recorded.   Released on February 12, 2016, the MyShake app is available free on the google play store.  Check out http://myshake.berkeley.edu/ for more information.  

Interesting stuff, yes? I envy the developers who created something that has the potential to save so many lives. But here at Webstasy, maybe we don't detect earthquakes like MyShake, but we can cause real earth shattering growth to your business.