At the annual Japan Geoscience Union Meeting on Sunday, researchers from the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory presented a new application designed to improve the detection of earthquakes by employing the sensors in smartphones.
The application, which is called MyShake, compiles motion data from smartphones’ sensors into a server at the seismology lab to determine whether an earthquake occurred. According to Qingkai Kong, a campus seismology doctoral student who worked on the Berkeley Seismological Lab team that helped develop the project, the application will allow for earthquake detection in places such as Nepal that do not already have in-ground sensors.
“We have the app downloaded by people all over the world, but currently, the density of the phones (that use the application is) still relatively low,” Kong said.
In other locations that already have these sensors, such as Japan, the researchers hope the application will improve earthquake detection by providing additional data. Kong said that the team hopes its presentation Sunday will encourage users in Japan to download the application, which has managed to garner about 170,000 downloads and 12,000 daily active users since its launch Feb. 12.
The project began in 2012 when Kong and other researchers from the seismology lab began to develop and test algorithms that would enable a smartphone to distinguish the motions of an earthquake from those of human activity. Soon after, programmers from Telekom Innovation Laboratories joined the project, implementing the researchers’ algorithms into a smartphone application, according to Telekom Vice President Louis Schreier.
“We like working with really top-tier universities where the collaboration seems to be beneficial to both sides,” Schreier said of Telekom’s partnership with the Berkeley Seismology Lab.
The MyShake project is funded by grants from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which recently awarded $1 million to the Berkeley Seismological Lab researchers Feb. 2.
Robert Kirshner, the chief program officer for science for the foundation, emphasized the public safety benefits of the project, as well as the potential of the smartphone data to further increase understanding of earthquakes within the field of geophysics.
“(UC Berkeley) has been especially good at bridging that gap between research and public benefit,” Kirshner said.
The foundation expects the team to use the grant to operate and maintain the MyShake network for the next two years and to improve the way it uses information from smartphones, according to Kirshner.
Kong said that the team is still collecting more data to ensure the stability and accuracy of the system in order to improve its algorithms. Once the team adjusts the algorithms, it hopes to use the data to enhance earthquake warning systems.