MyShake is an Android app that can detect earthquakes

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Credit: UC Berkeley

Researchers hope the MyShake app becomes the first step toward a global smartphone-powered earthquake warning system.

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Here in California, seismologists and other researchers have been hard at work developing an earthquake warning system that would give residents a brief heads-up to prepare for an impending quake. It’s similar in nature to a warning system Japan has had in place since 2007.

Systems like these require specialized equipment to detect earthquakes, but what if your smartphone could help improve these early warning systems? That’s the hope behind MyShake, a new Android app from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

MyShake effectively turns your smartphone into a pocket-sized seismometer. It runs in the background and uses your phone’s built-in accelerometer to detect shaking, and if it detects motion that’s consistent with the “vibrational profile” of a quake, it’ll submit data about that quake to Berkeley seismologists for analysis. According to the MyShake website, the app sends this data anonymously, so you shouldn’t have to worry about your personal information being at risk.

Eventually, researchers hope to use the app as part of a global earthquake detection network, an article on UC Berkeley’s website notes

The Myshake team stresses that the app and any future smartphone-based detection network won’t replace specialized quake detection systems, such as those operated by the US Geological Survey or UC Berkeley itself.

That said, Richard Allen, the UC Berkeley professor who oversees the MyShake project, told Berkeley News that “MyShake can make earthquake early warning faster and more accurate in areas that have a traditional seismic network, and can provide life-saving early warning in countries that have no seismic network.”

MyShake is an Android-only app for now, but an iPhone version is in the works, according to the MyShake team.

It looks like a clever idea and a novel use of existing technology—and I’m not just saying that because I’m a UC Berkeley grad. After all, anything that can people even a few seconds of warning before a quake starts can potentially save lives. The app is free, and it’s available now on Google Play.

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