You Can Now Sense Earthquakes On Your Smartphone

Feb 12, 2016

Photo credit: Japanexperterna.se/Flickr CC by SA 2.0

By Mary Beth Griggs

Your phone, yes, the one you’re (probably) reading this on, can detect earthquakes. All you need is an app.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley announced today 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. The hope is that eventually, if enough people download it, the app will allow your phone to function as both a personal seismometer and an early warning system.

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.

But in order for the app to be effective as an early warning system, a decent number of people have to download it. 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.


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