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MyShake Mobile App Builds an Internet-of-Things Seismic Measurement Community

by Kevin Farnham on Mar 07, 2016 |

MyShake is a mobile app developed by the Seismological Laboratory at the University of California Berkeley, which enables smart phone users to contribute seismic data measurements recorded by their smartphones to an Internet-of-Things back-end platform. There, the data is analyzed to evaluate current seismological conditions and predict the likelihood that an earthquake will occur in a particular region in the near future.

MyShake screenshot

The free app is currently available for Android smartphones (an iPhone app is under development). The app utilizes sensors in smartphones "to record earthquake shaking. By developing this capability the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory hopes to create a dense network that could one day provide warnings prior to shaking."

Professor Richard Allen from the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory told BBC:

"Just a few seconds' warning is all you need to 'drop, take cover and hold on.' Based on what social scientists have told us about past earthquakes, if everyone got under a sturdy table, the estimate is that we could reduce the number of injuries in a quake by 50%."

One of the problems that had to be solved by the app developers was: how do you distinguish seismic activity from other movements the smartphone measures? For example, was the user simply walking down the street not using the phone, or did the user pick up the phone, then tilt it in a certain orientation? How do you distinguish this from movements caused by seismic activity?

The app relies on a sophisticated algorithm to analyse all the different vibrations picked up by a phone's onboard accelerometer. This algorithm has been "trained" to distinguish between everyday human motions and those specific to an earthquake... In simulations, the app detects a quake correctly in 93% of cases.

LiveScience, quoting Professor Allen, describes what happens next:

When a smartphone's MyShake app detects an earthquake, it instantly sends an alert to a central processing site. A network detection algorithm is activated by incoming data from multiple phones in the same area, to "declare" an earthquake, identify its location and estimate its magnitude.

For now, MyShake only collects and transmits data to the MyShake data center. "But the end goal," Allen said, "is for future versions of the app to send warnings back to individual users."

Thus far, more than 100,000 people have downloaded the MyShake app.

A detailed paper about the science and technology behind the MyShake app is available in the Science Advances journal.

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