back to article Earthquake-sensing smartphone app fires off early alerts of disaster

There's a new smartphone app that could save your life by giving an early warning of an impending earthquake. The app, dubbed MyShake, was developed as a collaboration between UC Berkeley and Deutsche Telekom and uses the accelerometers built into modern smartphones to sense for earthquakes. "MyShake cannot replace …

  1. Electron Shepherd
    Coat

    I know what he meant, but

    "We want to make this a killer app" probably isn't an ideal quote for this sort of application.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: I know what he meant, but

      sigh

      I forsee that this will be used this to measure how much they were 'rocked' by the sex they are not having.

      The won't will they?

      Brings a new meaning to 'rock my boat'.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I know what he meant, but

        "Brings a new meaning to 'rock my boat'."

        Brings a new meaning to 'Did the earth move for you babe?'.

        FTFY

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Paris Hilton

          Re: I know what he meant, but

          So is it a false positive if the guy's phone is going off, but his girl's says nothing is happening?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Did the Earth move for you too darling?"

    Be interestin to see if you can get it to go off when you're getting off!

  3. Craig 2

    Just don't leave it on your bedside table this weekend, greater-than-average chance of the earth moving!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it me or do we need yet another battery-draining app (after all, doesn't the app need to be able to continuously poll the accelerometers, at a hit to the battery each time, to be able to detect the shakes)

    1. mosw

      They could make it only run when it is plugged in and charging.

      That would also reduce the number of other events that might cause the shaking. After all the app only needs a few phones plugged in in a given area to be effective.

  5. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    It would be interesting to see which algorithms they use to filter out the false positives.

    1. et tu, brute?

      False positives...

      Like a group of friends on quad-bikes converging on each other from four directions in a large open area, all happily bumping around, and thus triggering an alert?

      1. TimePilot84

        Re: False positives...

        Or a Mongolian cluster fuck?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sub-optimal

    The people at the epicenter will get no early warning from the app, but they need it the most!

    1. GrumpenKraut

      Re: Sub-optimal

      But he/she can send off a genuine "frist!".

    2. mosw

      Re: Sub-optimal

      "The people at the epicenter will get no early warning from the app, but they need it the most!"

      Yes but if more people/equipment surrounding the epicenter survive in good shape then help will arrive at the epicenter sooner.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    Real utility

    It might be theoretically useful for those earthquake-prone countries with governments that so don't give a shit about most of the people that they can't be arsed to spend far less than, e.g. the cost of one of their president's executive helicopters, to provide the population with a marginally adequate seismic network.

    But the chances are that the real utility is in the app itself providing Californian smartphone users with a minute or so's warning from the extensive set of high performance networked seismometers equipped with precision accelerometers installed in the state, rendering the limited sensing capabilities of the smartphones irrelevant.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Real utility

      Even 400 sensors is not a lot for big California. There will be many gaps where smart phones can fill in.

      Also, while it's nice to have those 400 high quality datasets, It would also be desirable to have 50,000 low quality datasets too. Boffins will be able to produce an accurate time-simulation of a quake's wave motions and strengths over a big area with very many data points, and fully correlated to the high q data.

      Who knows what insights may be gleaned with such a clear look at a quake?

      1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: Real utility

        Low quality data brings serious analysis problems. To me this sounds like a good idea but there is likely too much garbage included in the data to make it essentially useless.

        Now if they are saying that a rejiggered smartphone could be used a cheap seismometer linked into the seismic monitoring network from fixed locations that might work.

        1. Justin Clift

          Re: Real utility

          Wonder if things like crowds during an exciting football game at large stadiums would set it off?

          10's of thousands of people jumping about when their team wins... that can definitely make things shake locally for a lot of people at once.

          1. Captain DaFt

            Re: Real utility

            I was thinking about the Stateside school's penchant for "Taco Tuesday". Might cause a massive false positive every week!

          2. Raphael

            Re: Real utility

            The AC/DC concert in Auckland last year was picked up on the seismographs.

            http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/75152808/acdc-concert-receives-27-noise-complaints-makes-earth-shudder

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Real utility

          > "To me this sounds like a good idea but there is likely too much garbage included in the data to make it essentially useless."

          Not necessarily. The one data axis that's guaranteed to be accurate for smart phones is the timing of shake events. Even with all the garbage, the signal can be winkled out due to the timing and large number of data points. And while perceived shake strength will vary due to the type of connection between the phone and the shaking plate, a sufficiently large sample allows averaging that should be reasonably consistent. Those averages can then be normalized by use of the nearest high q data.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Real utility

        Even 400 sensors is not a lot for big California. There will be many gaps where smart phones can fill in.

        Remember that earthquakes usually occur just along fault lines, so you only need to instrument those for prompt earthquake detection. You then just issue an alert to everyone within some strengh-dependent distance of it.

  8. Zog_but_not_the_first
    Thumb Up

    Works a treat

    Detected a few gravitational waves with mine.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This probably makes more sense to build into the phone's OS

    That way you don't have to leave the app running in the background all the time. A confirmed quake notification should ideally be sent out via the phone's emergency alert system (so it is on TV too) for maximum reach rather than just those who have the app running and their smartphone nearby.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This probably makes more sense to build into the phone's OS

      I agree. For a first cut, this is worth contributing time to I believe. Since I generally leave my LG GPad 8.0 on the charger with the WiFi on, it gives them data to play with. Not that I expect it to be good data since the main train yard in Fresno County across the street.

      Over the years I've done SETI@Home, Folding@Home, and a Few other projects. What the heck, I've the machines standing by between torture sessions. Put them to use.

  10. x 7

    "myshake" sounds like some kind of aid or assistance in the gents loo in a posh hotel.

    If you've ever used the toilets in the Leela Kempinski in Bombay you'll know what I mean......little Indian guy tries to wipe your end for you with a rag as you finish peeing........

  11. ratfox

    Can't believe I'm the first to quote...

    https://xkcd.com/723/

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Can't believe I'm the first to quote...

      Also https://xkcd.com/937/

  12. Charles Manning

    I really can't see how this adds value in places like California with the current seismic network with hundreds of very, very sensitive sensors.

    Earthquakes sometimes fo give some warning in that P waves travel faster than the S waves. The S waves cause the damage, so if the source is far enough away you get some warning by detecting and reacting to the P waves.

    We just had a 5.7 here in Christchurch. No real damage. No warning either and no fancy app would have given us warning either.

    1. Known Hero

      no fancy app would have given us warning either.

      Why do you think they are making this app? So you would have an app to warn you. Think you might of missed the point.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Given that the quake in chch was centred less than 14km from the city, nothing would have given advance warning (If the alpine fault pops, it would be a completely different matter)

        There's a reason NZ is sometimes known as the Shakey Isles.

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        The Christchurch earthquake wasn't the type that could've provided any practical warning. First, the epicenter of the quake was out to sea, so no one would be there to detect it. Second, it was only 15km offshore, meaning the seismic waves wouldn't have to travel very far. Any Primary/Secondary lag time would be measured in seconds.

  13. Rol

    Other uses?

    Seeing as the accelerometers are being utilized, another algorithm could look for the tell tale signs of other calamities, like:-

    1. Speed goes from zero to 70mph and back to zero very quickly.

    Action. Inform emergency services, with GPS location, and a pre-record voice message giving your personal details, and/or rare blood type, allergies, etc.

    2. Gone from vertical to horizontal while falling at 9.81m/s/s and then remained motionless for five seconds.

    Action Bleep loudly, cos they've either dropped it and not noticed, or they might have collapsed, in which case run the possible emergency action when the annoying bleep gets no response.

    3. Falls at a rate consistent with being dropped in liquid

    Action Text Apple informing them you have voided your warranty.

    Perhaps, not too well thought out, but I hope you get the gist of it.

    Anyone got any proper ideas?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Other uses?

      1. Speed goes from zero to 70mph and back to zero very quickly.

      Action. Inform emergency services, with GPS location, and a pre-record voice message giving your personal details, and/or rare blood type, allergies, etc.

      So it will only work if I boot it then slam on the brakes?

      1. Rol

        Re: Other uses?

        Yes you're right.

        It was how I written it first, 70 to zero, but then had a senior moment and thunk it beyond my capacity at the time.

  14. PaulVD

    Done this already

    I was part of the Quake-Catcher Network for several years - small sensor mounted on the floor with my desktop analysing accelerations and sending packets to Stanford. Apparently proved the concept well, and my setup reported on several quakes, but maps of user locations showed that the network was over-represented where lots of tech people live and under-represented where most earthquakes happen. It seems that the grant ran out, and the network is no longer really active. Maybe this will replace it.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Done this already

      I guess we can consider ourselves fortunate that so few earthquakes are actually centered WITHIN a heavily-populated area because not only would there be no warning at all, not even a P wave because you're at the point they're being generated, but also maximum impact because all the energy's right there.

  15. jake Silver badge

    When I was at SAIL ...

    ... we had a seismograph wired to send an alarm (sonalerts in all participants living quarters, ~100 participants) at the first sign of fairly low-level P-waves. After a year or so, not a single one of us managed to get out of the house before the S-waves got there.

    Needless to say, the project was dropped as useless.

    THAT said, as a many data-point gatherer, I'm all for it!

  16. chivo243 Silver badge

    friends in NZ

    could really use this one. I see another quake has it CChurch.

  17. OffBeatMammal

    is it only California that has Earthquakes?

    had a quick look at the app and it's very California-centric. Sad really as there are other places, even in the US, that have earthquakes. Uninstalled

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022