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Your phone can detect earthquakes. All you need is an app. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley announced the release of a new app called MyShake, available as a free download for Android smartphones in the Google Play store.
It uses the accelerometer in your phone (the device that lets your phone adjust the screen when you turn it sideways) and GPS to measure how much shaking is happening in a given location.
When the app detects shaking that resembles an earthquake, the information is sent to a server. If enough phones detect shaking, that data is pooled together in a computer and analyzed. If it's a large earthquake, in the future alerts can be generated from the phones of people closest to the earthquake's epicenter, and sent out ahead of the shaking, giving people further away (also equipped with the app) the chance to drop, cover, and hold on. The researchers estimate that in order to accurately detect the origin and start time of large earthquakes in a location, there need to be at least 300 phones equipped with the app in a roughly 4,761 square mile area. The more MyShake-equipped phones in an area, the faster the team can get accurate information.
"Currently, we have a network of 400 seismic stations in California, one of the densest in the world," project leader Richard Allen said in a statement. "Even if we get only a small fraction of the state's 16 million mobile phones participating in our program, that would be a many-orders-of-magnitude increase in the amount of data we can gather."
Dedicated seismometers are machines that measure shaking during an earthquake, but they can also pick up other signals like sonic blasts, fans cheering at football games, explosions and bear attacks. Right now, MyShake is only available on Android through the Google Play store.
In a paper about the app, the researchers note that Nepal, which suffered a huge earthquake last year that killed over 8,000 people could have benefitted from an early warning system like the MyShake app. Nepal has only a few seismic stations, but 6 million smartphones.
In addition, given that the huge earthquake last year was located about 50 miles from the capital city, Katmandu, the researchers estimate that a smartphone based early warning system could have given people in the city 20 seconds of notice before the shaking started, potentially saving lives.
2016.02.13 / 09:47