CLOSE
Original image
Screenshot from MyShake

Researchers Create Phone App That Detects Earthquake Tremors

Original image
Screenshot from MyShake

A new app could turn the world’s 3 billion smartphones into a massive seismic network, listening for tiny tremors and improving our earthquake early warning capability.

Up until now, researchers have considered using smartphone GPS to measure large ground movement—but if you’ve ever taken a long road trip, you know the effect this would have on battery life. Now, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley have partnered with Deutsche Telekom to develop an app that works effectively without draining the battery, and can help improve earthquake detection without new infrastructure.

“The idea is to take advantage of the millions of smartphone accelerometers that already exist,” Richard Allen, director of UC Berkeley's Seismological Laboratory, said on February 11 at a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.

The app is called MyShake, and it uses a carefully designed algorithm that can sift through the background noise of your normal physical activity, and distinguish the faint seismic signals that can precede a quake.

The idea is that given a big enough network of smartphones, real-time earthquake estimates can start to unfold.

The app, available for download today, beams the network data to a central server, which analyzes it in real time and calculates the quake location, origin time, and magnitude. Then, it can estimate the intensity of shaking and the amount of time before damaging waves arrive at a given point. It can detect quakes upwards of magnitude 5, as much as 6.2 miles away.

The scientists tested it by simulating the magnitude 5.1 La Habra earthquake in Los Angeles in 2014, and comparing MyShake response time and magnitude estimate with those of the existing ShakeAlert, an early warning system developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and several university partners—including UC-Berkeley—that has been in testing for the past four years. MyShake performed better than ShakeAlert.

It was just a simulation, but the potential is huge. Consider California alone: It has a dense network of 400 traditional seismic stations to track almost constant tectonic activity. It also has 16 million smartphone users. The data from their phones could massively improve our ability to detect earthquakes and send out warnings quicker.

Screenshot from MyShake

The system isn’t meant to be a substitute for traditional earthquake sensors. “A smartphone will never replace a traditional seismic station,” Allen emphasized. Instead, the researchers hope MyShake can augment existing monitoring systems, and see a big role for it in areas without detection infrastructure.

One potential spot for its use is Nepal. When the country was hit by a magnitude 7.8 quake in April 2015, it had no earthquake detection stations—but it did have 6 million smartphone users. The scientists think that if MyShake technology had been available, the 600,000 smartphones in Katmandu could’ve generated a warning as much as 20 seconds before the big shaking began—and perhaps avoided some of the thousands of deaths that resulted from the quake.

Twenty seconds doesn’t sound like much, but according to disaster prevention researcher Masumi Yamada, of Kyoto University, who also spoke at the presentation, tens of seconds is pretty standard for an early warning system. Japan’s seismic network is even denser than California’s, and a warning system has been operating there since 2007. In 2011, it issued a warning within seconds when the magnitude 9 Tohoku quake began, saving lives. 

Even a few seconds can be enough to slow or stop transit and heavy machinery, or halt surgeries—and in developing regions like Nepal, where building safety codes are poor or nonexistent, it offers precious time for people to simply get outside, clear of buildings that could come down on top of them. 

The app also includes safety tips and information on past earthquakes in the local region. And like most scientific efforts, a mobile seismic network requires teamwork. It needs users in areas that aren’t tectonically active, so the algorithm can better distinguish the difference between ordinary human movement and actual shaking. So even if you don’t live in a seismically active area, consider downloading the app at Google Play. It could help reduce the impact of future seismic hazards by contributing data that helps researchers better understand earthquake physics.

When it comes to being prepared for The Big One—a quake like the one predicted to destroy the Pacific Northwest one day—Allen said, "Are we ready? The answer is no, we’re not ready. But I’m very hopeful that here in the U.S., we might actually be able to implement an earthquake early warning system before we have the next big earthquake. We’re making progress.”

Original image
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
Use Wi-Fi? Your Device Is at Risk in the Latest Security Breach
Original image
iStock

Another day, another way our personal data is being compromised. This time, the latest threat to your credit card numbers, social security information, and other personal data comes from a more-than-ubiquitous source: your Wi-Fi.

As Ars Technica and The Independent report, a computer security researcher has discovered a major issue with Wi-Fi that can be used to decrypt your data. The vulnerability is the result of weakness in the WPA2 protocol that secures modern Wi-Fi networks. Hackers can steal sensitive data that has been decrypted a method called KRACK, or Key Reinstallation Attacks. While we can't know yet if hackers have actually taken advantage of the vulnerability, its existence puts every Wi-Fi-enabled device at risk.

“If your device supports Wi-Fi, it is most likely affected,” Mathy Vanhoef, the Belgium-based researcher who discovered the exploit, said. That means your phone, your computer, and even your Wi-Fi light bulbs. The hacker only needs to be within range of your Wi-Fi—not logged into your network—to take advantage of it and steal your data. However, Ars Technica reports that Android and Linux users are more vulnerable to severe attacks than Windows or iOS users.

What should I do to protect myself?

Unfortunately, changing your passwords won’t help this time around. All you can do is wait for security updates for your devices. In the meantime, treat every Wi-Fi connection like it’s the public network at Starbucks. As in, don’t go sharing all your personal data. You can make yourself safer by using a VPN. According to cybersecurity expert Robert Graham, these kind of attacks can’t defeat VPNs.

Most companies will no doubt be releasing security patches to fix this issue ASAP, so keep a look out for any available updates.

[h/t The Independent]

Original image
Hoversurf
arrow
technology
Dubai Plans to Outfit Police Force With Hoverbikes
Original image
Hoversurf

Dubai is home to plenty of flashy fashion and architecture, and it has over-the-top police gear to match. The department already is outfitted with some of the fastest cars on the streets, including a Ferrari and a Lamborghini. Now, Autoblog reports that police officers in the United Arab Emirates city are getting hoverbikes to access hard-to-reach places.

The bikes, which were developed by the Russian startup Hoversurf, debuted in early October at the Gulf Information Technology Exposition (GITEX) in Dubai. Like Hoversurf’s Scorpion-3 hoverbike, the police version is battery-powered and uses propellers at each corner to float like a drone. The newly-released model can reach maximum altitudes of 16 feet and move at speeds of up to 43 mph. Though the quadcopter can only carry one passenger at a time, it can withstand weights of up to 660 pounds. A fully charged battery is enough to fuel a 25-minute ride.

The futuristic addition to the force’s fleet of vehicles isn’t designed for chasing bad guys. Rather, the city hopes to use it to reach out-of-the-way spots during emergencies. If there’s a car wreck at the end of a traffic jam, for example, the Scorpion hoverbike could simply fly over the congestion and reach the scene faster than the department could with cars on the ground.

While cities around the world are still figuring out how low-flying drones and vehicles fit into pedestrian areas, Dubai has been quick to embrace the technology. In 2015, the city invested in jetpacks for first responders. While it's still unclear when the gadgets will be used in an official capacity, the CEO of Hoversurf has confirmed that mass production of the bikes is already underway.

[h/t Autoblog]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios