The free MyShake app, available for Android in the Google Play Store as of last month, is not an app to make you a milkshake, but a chance to help the University of California, Berkley, to develop an app that will give you warnings of impending earthquakes. Most of the current systems give information of tragedies after they occur, but MyShake will attempt to forewarn. The app will tap into your smartphone’s accelerometer to record the shaking ground from an earthquake in an effort to create a “worldwide seismic detection network,” capable of warning the app users of nearby, impending earthquakes. It will run in the background and as it collects information to be analyzed and if it fits the profile of a quake, it will forward it to the Berkley Seismological Laboratory for further analysis. They claim it will use minimum resources on your device.
Immediately following the launch of MyShake back in February, Richard Allen, the leader of the app project, Director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and a professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences said, “MyShake cannot replace traditional seismic networks like those run by the U.S. Geological Survey, UC Berkeley, the University of Washington and Caltech, but we think 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.” It may be the only option for areas like Nepal and Peru where there are the bare minimum or no ground-based seismic network, but millions of smartphones that can be used as low-cost sensors.
Obviously, a smartphone’s accelerometers are far less sensitive than in-ground seismometers but are good enough to record approaching earthquakes over a magnitude of 5, where real damage can be done and record them from up to 10 kilometers away. The researchers say that what a smartphone lacks in sensitivity, they make up for in number. There is a network of 400 seismic stations in California – the densest in the world – but there are over 16 million smartphones in California. Allen says that even if a fraction of those 16 million participate in the program that would lead to a tremendous amount of data being collected. They are hoping that thousands of people will download the app in order for MyShake to get a good testing – from there the app will be updated with hopes to provide early warnings within a year. As of right now, the Play Store lists somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 installs, which is a number that sounds like what the developers were hoping for, at least to start. If you’re planning on downloading MyShake to help in the participation, it’s worth mentioning that the most accurate readings are when the smartphone is flat on a table. This could be a real breakthrough for people that live in places where earthquakes are known to occur, but only if enough people choose to use the app.