MyShake is a free app for Android phones that has the ability to recognize earthquake shaking using the sensors in every smartphone.
The new app can sense an earthquake even when the phone is being carried in a pocket or a bag.
It turns a smartphone into a mobile seismometer.
The researchers want users to download MyShake app, in the first instance, to help test and improve its capabilities.
Ultimately the idea is that recruited phones will be part of a network that not only gathers data but also issues alerts.
Destructive ground motions take time to move out from the epicenter of a large quake, meaning people at more distant locations could receive several seconds’ vital warning on their phones.
“Just a few seconds’ warning is all you need to <<drop, take cover and hold on>>,” said Prof. Richard Allen from the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.
Prof. Richard Allen has a paper about MyShake in this week’s Science Advances journal, but he has also been demonstrating it here in Washington DC at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
MyShake relies on a sophisticated algorithm to analyze 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.
The achieved sensitivity is for a Magnitude 5 event at a distance of 10km (6.2 miles) from the epicenter.
In simulations, the app detects a quake correctly in 93% of cases.
All this is done in the background – much like health apps that monitor the fitness activity of the phone user.
Once triggered, MyShake sends a message to a central server over the mobile network. The hub then calculates the location and size of the quake.
False positives are filtered out because the server is connected to existing seismic and GPS monitoring stations, and – if the public take up MyShake – thousands of other phones.
MyShake is available for Android devices; an iOS version is very likely to come in the future.