When you hear the term “CrowdShake” you might be forgiven for thinking that it has something to do with Harlem, or it’s some kind of “Flash Mob” type of thing. But you’d be wrong – way wrong. Yes, it does involve people – crowds of people – and it does involve shaking, but it’s not of your own freewill.
Living in the middle of Canada means we’re slightly immune to earthquakes. It’s not to say that we don’t get them because we do. I know! I was just as surprised at that fact as you probably are – but our earthquakes in Saskatchewan have averaged about a 3 on the Richter Scale over the past 100 years. Compared to such devastating earthquakes that we’ve been witness to in the last decade – Haiti, the Indian Ocean, Chile, and most recently in Japan – these have all reached 9 and above. So, a 3 is nothing.
I’ve been in a couple of situations where I’ve felt tremors from neighboring countries seismic activity, which would sometimes send me into panic mode, but I’ve never felt anything along the lines of a “big one”. But I imagine that for those of you who do live in such regions where earthquakes are a-plenty, then it becomes an everyday occurrence. That’s not to say there is a major earthquake everyday, but in volatile areas – namely the “Ring of Fire” – you must feel minor quakes daily.
So, with this in mind is it possible to suggest that you become so accustomed to these minor quakes, borderline complacent, that if and when the “big one” did strike, say in the middle of the night, you’d think nothing of it? Instead, you’d just roll over in bed, ignore the customary feeling, and risk being a goner. But what if you had your own way of detecting an earthquake before it struck – perhaps your very own early warning device that could raise the alarm and tell you that it’s more than just a knee-wobbler?
Early Warning Systems
The only problem is, these early warning systems are an expensive piece of equipment. They rely on sensors – lots of them – which are spread out across a region. When an earthquake begins the closest sensor picks up the tremor, it gets relied to a processing center where the intensity of the quake is measured and the time it will take for the quake to reach other areas.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I imagine these systems to take up a vast amount of space. So unless Walmart is secretly developing their own “Value” range of these systems or IKEA is developing a version you can build yourself, then you’re not likely to find a home-version on the shelves anytime soon.
However, having said that, a team from the California Institute of Technology – or Caltech to you and I – might have the answer.
Richard Guy, Caltech’s Community Seismic Network manager, along with graduate Matt Faulkner head a team that have created a mobile App that can be used for alerting you to the threat of earthquake. The CrowdShake App uses the accelerometer in your smartphone – the part of the smartphone’s brain that adapts the orientation when the device is changed from vertical to horizontal and vice-versa – and turns it into a simple seismometer.
Essentially CrowdShake employs the same principles as any early warning system. The accelerometer in your smartphone senses the movement. This information is then analyzed and pushed back to the user. Your smartphone then receives the data and knows when and where the tremor was originally felt. By using your phones GPS, along with the current time, it can then calculate how long it will take to reach your location and how intense the quake will be.
The calculation itself takes just “milliseconds” to perform and sends out an alert telling you to either relax, you’re safe, or you have literally seconds to get out of there.
Clear as mud? Hmm. I’ll let the team at Caltech explain further:
However, one of the problems facing the makers of CrowdShake, is that the accelerometer in your smartphone isn’t powerful enough, or of good enough quality to produce reliable data on it’s own. Therefore, in order for CrowdShake to produce accurate information a community of users will be needed:
“If there are just enough [phones] that are stationary, which could be a very small percentage, from that we can determine – OK, an earthquake is under way and this is how intense it was at a certain point”, says Richard Guy.
Because of it’s challenges, right now the CrowdShake App remains a prototype. However, the goal is to begin testing and using this App in developing countries where there is no early warning system infrastructure, but where mobile and smartphones are common.
If and when the CrowdShake App is launched it might not save your life, but if you have say a 15 second head-start, then it could make all the difference between your chance of survival or not.
What’s your opinion on the CrowdShake App? Leave your comments below.