Smartphone can alert users to earthquakes

By Stefan Nicola

Seismographs at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Photo / File
Seismographs at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Photo / File

A new app developed by U.S. scientists can turn your smartphone into an earthquake sensor and potentially save lives.

Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and Deutsche Telekom AG have built an app that uses a smartphone's motion sensor to feel earthquakes. The app, called MyShake, records the time and amplitude of a tremor and sends its data and the phone's location to Berkeley's seismological lab for analysis.

The more people use the app, the better the system will work. The goal is to create a global seismic network -- a collective seismograph if you will -- that will eventually warn users ahead of time of incoming jolts from far-away quakes.

"For many earthquake-prone developing countries such as Nepal or Peru, MyShake could warn potentially affected persons valuable seconds earlier and, ideally, safe lives," Deutsche Telekom said in a statement Monday. "These countries currently have either only a sparse ground-based seismic network or early warning system, or none at all -- but do have millions of smartphone users."

While a phone's motion sensor, or accelerometer, is less sensitive than an in-ground sensometer, it can record earthquakes above a magnitude of 5 within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). And the sheer number of potential users makes up for a phone's insensitivity, with an estimated 16 million smartphones in California and about 1 billion worldwide. MyShake can be downloaded for free from Google's Play store, and an iPhone app is also planned, Deutsche Telekom said.

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Stefan Nicola
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