iShake: Mobile Phones as Seismic Sensors

Shideh Dashti, Jack Reilly, Jonathan Bray, Alex Bayen, Steven Glaser, Mari Ervasti

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference abstract in proceedingsScientific


    A rapid and accurate portrayal of damage distribution after an earthquake is vital for an effective emergency response. Shortcomings still exist due to the limited number of strong motion stations and the qualitative nature of human observations used to construct ground-shaking intensity maps. In an effort to overcome the existing shortcomings, the iShake project proposes to use cell phones to measure ground motion intensity parameters and automatically deliver data to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for processing and dissemination. Quantitative shaking data from numerous cellular phones will enable the USGS to produce shaking maps more accurately than presently possible. The phone sensor, however, is an imperfect device with performance variations among phones of a given model as well as between models. The sensor is the entire phone, not just the micro-machined transducer inside. A series of 1-D and 3-D shaking table tests were performed at UC San Diego and UC Berkeley, respectively, to evaluate the performance of a class of cell phones. In these tests, seven iPhones and iPod Touch devices that were mounted at different orientations were subjected to 124 earthquake ground motions to characterize their response and reliability as seismic sensors. The testing also provided insight into the seismic response of unsecured and falling instruments. The cell phones measured seismic parameters such as peak ground acceleration (PGA), peak ground velocity (PGV), peak ground displacement (PGD), and 5% damped spectral accelerations well. In general, iPhone and iPod Touch sensors slightly over-estimated ground motion energy (i.e., Arias Intensity, Ia). However, the mean acceleration response spectrum of the seven iPhones compared remarkably well with that of the reference high quality accelerometers. The error in the recorded intensity parameters was dependent on the characteristics of the input ground motion, particularly its PGA and Ia, and increased for stronger motions. The use of a high-friction device cover (e.g., rubber iPhone covers) on unsecured phones yielded substantially improved data by minimizing independent phone movement. Useful information on the ground motion characteristics was even extracted from unsecured phones during intense shaking events. The insight gained from these experiments is valuable in distilling information from a large number of imperfect signals from phones that may not be rigidly connected to the ground. With these ubiquitous measurement devices, a more accurate and rapid portrayal of the damage distribution during an earthquake can be provided to emergency responders and to the public.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationAmerican Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2010
    Subtitle of host publicationAbstracts
    Publication statusPublished - 2010
    MoE publication typeNot Eligible
    EventAmerican Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2010 - San Francisco, United States
    Duration: 13 Dec 201017 Dec 2010


    ConferenceAmerican Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2010
    Abbreviated title2010 AGU Fall Meeting
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    CitySan Francisco


    • Earthquake dynamics
    • Earthquake ground motions and engineering seismology
    • Seismic instruments and networks


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