New app puts an earthquake detector in your pocket

Smartphone technology harnessed to track temblor vibrations

VIBRATE MODE  A new smartphone app called MyShake can detect nearby earthquakes and may one day provide early warnings of tremors, its creators say. Researchers tested the app using vibrating tables that mimic quakes (shown).

Berkeley Seismological Laboratory

WASHINGTON — If you need to detect earthquakes, there’s an app for that. Seismologists have harnessed the motion-sensing accelerometers built into smartphones to detect tremors. The app, called MyShake, could eventually provide early warning of approaching quakes in regions lacking sophisticated seismometer networks, Richard Allen, a seismologist at the University of California, Berkeley, said February 11 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

MyShake monitors a smartphone’s movements. The software differentiates between everyday motion, such as a phone jostling in a pocket, and vibrations caused by an earthquake. The system monitors whether smartphones running the app in the same area report a quake (SN: 4/19/14, p. 16). One day, the system could then send earthquake alerts to users’ phones, Allen said.

The researchers tested the app by placing smartphones on special vibrating tables that mimic real temblors. MyShake can accurately record earthquakes of magnitude 5 or above within 10 kilometers of the epicenter, the researchers report February 12 in Science Advances. Had MyShake been deployed before the April 2015 Nepal earthquake, the system could have provided about 20 seconds of warning before the tremors struck Kathmandu, where most fatalities occurred (SN: 5/16/15, p. 12), the researchers estimate.

The free app is currently only available for Android smartphones, though a version for Apple’s iOS platform is in the works, Allen said.

SHAKE IT UP MyShake detects earthquakes using the movement-measuring accelerometers built into smartphones. The software can distinguish earthquake vibrations from everyday movements, like these recordings made from shaking a phone by hand. Berkeley Seismological Laboratory

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