Deutsche Telekom turns Android smartphones into seismic monitors

Deutsche Telekom launched an app for Android smartphones that taps the devices' accelerometers to offer an early warning of earthquakes.

The MyShake app was developed in conjunction with researchers at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) and aims to utilise smartphone data to generate a global seismic detection network that, in time, will have the ability to offer warnings of tremors caused by earthquakes.

Deutsche Telekom said it will target the service at countries including Nepal and Peru, where existing ground-based seismic monitoring and early warning systems are sparse. The operator added that an early tremor warning of even a few seconds could save lives.

MyShake utilises an algorithm developed by seismologists at UC Berkeley, and was developed into a smartphone app by programmers at the Silicon Valley Innovation Centre -- a part of Deutsche Telekom's T-Labs division.

The app analyses data gathered from smartphone accelerometers and, if it matches the vibration characteristics of an earthquake, passes details of the time, amplitude and GPS position of the device to the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory for further investigation. An earthquake is confirmed if at least four phones detect shaking, and if those devices represent 60 per cent or more of all devices within a 10 km radius.

While Deutsche Telekom conceded that smartphone accelerometers are currently far less sensitive than ground-based seismic detection equipment, it stated that the smartphones are "sensitive enough to record earthquakes above a magnitude 5 -- the ones that do damage". The operator added that the sheer number of smartphones in use helps to overcome shortcomings in the sensitivity of mobile device accelerometers.

The operator said it aims to introduce an updated version of the app within a year, once it has recruited enough smartphone owners and ironed out any initial bugs in the set up. It also plans to make the app available to iPhone users in future.

For more:
- see this Deutsche Telekom announcement

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