Android app harnesses IoT for earthquake warnings

Android app harnesses IoT for earthquake warnings

MyShake app harnesses IoT for earthquake warnings
MyShake app harnesses IoT for earthquake warnings

Researchers at the University of California’s Berkeley Seismological Laboratory have developed a mobile app to build an Internet of Things (IoT) seismic measurement community.

Currently in the initial testing stages, MyShake is monitoring seismic activity across California and wherever else the app is downloaded. Before long researchers at UC hope that it will become an advanced warning tool and help them predict when and where earthquakes are going to occur.

The app relies on a connected community of smartphones, using the built-in accelerometers meant for counting steps to measure seismic activity. Like many step-tracking fitness applications, MyShake runs silently in the background on your phone and uses very little power.

It comes into its own when it detects shaking which fits the vibrational profile of an earthquake, sending the anonymous information to a central system that confirms the location and magnitude of the quake. Being able to make the distinction between everyday movements and genuine quakes is a key part of the application’s functionality.

(Image from http://myshake.berkeley.edu/)
(Image from http://myshake.berkeley.edu/)

The long-term ambition is to create a dense network of devices that will eventually provide warnings prior to shaking, giving people in dangerous areas precious time to find a secure place to take cover.

Although the app is being introduced in California, a region with fairly sophisticated earthquake warning infrastructure, there are parts of the world where similar early warning systems are not present. Luckily, an increasing number of people in these areas own a smartphone.

IoT could help with natural disasters

The MyShake app is unique in that the more users join its community, the more the community itself will stand to benefit. With over 100,000 downloads so far and counting, it may not be long before its potential value is spread worldwide.

Speaking with Internet of Business, Fred de Haro, CEO of IoT start up Pycom, suggested that early warnings via IoT devices could soon be commonplace when dealing with impending natural disasters.

He said: “Monitoring earthquakes and alerting early warning applications via the Internet typically uses very low amounts of data and therefore can take advantage of low cost/long range networks, such as the LoRa low power WAN. Rural areas and coastlines will be able to install LoRa networks connected to inexpensive battery-operated seismic, which could alert applications such as MyShake and give users even greater advanced warning of earthquakes and potential tsunamis.”

To find out more about the science behind MyShake you can read the paper written by its developers on Science Advances.