Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone places in the world. An estimated 1,500 quakes are recorded in the country every year, and minor earthquakes occur almost every day.
Tokyo has particular reason for concern. It’s been reported that the nation’s capital—the largest metropolitan area on earth, with nearly 38 million residents—has a 70% chance of a magnitude 7-class earthquake hitting directly beneath the city within 30 years.
Of course, Japan has an advanced earthquake monitoring system and early warning program. The Japan Meteorological Agency maintains some 1,700 seismic monitoring stations across the country.
Many of these stations utilize technology from Hakusan Corporation, a small manufacturing company based in Tokyo. Hakusan designs, manufactures, and implements the traditional earthquake monitoring devices that measure the shake of the ground.
But now, Hakusan is taking a new and unique approach. It is pioneering a system that uses monitoring devices placed in individual buildings and big data analysis to measure earthquake damage in real time.
It’s an idea that company leaders believe can lead to more sustainable and livable cities.
“Our mission is to promote disaster prevention and social resilience,” says Yoichi Tanaka, chief technical officer at Hakusan Corporation, in a recent video. It’s a mission driven by innovation.
Back in 2010, Hakusan determined that the accelerometer built into the iPhone was precise enough to measure the movement of earthquakes. Hakusan began experimenting with the notion.
The company developed a free app called “i-Jishin” that allows anyone to record and analyze quake data from their smartphone. (Jishin translates to earthquake.)
And on March 11, 2011 the concept was put to the test in dramatic fashion. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook Japan—the largest ever to hit the island nation.
“i-Jishin functioned just as expected,” says Tanaka.
Hakusan then realized that attaching an i-Jishin-enabled smartphone to the walls of a building could record the specific amount of shake experienced by that structure. Analysis of this data provides very granular information about the effects of an earthquake. Magnify this insight with data from perhaps thousands of local devices and a very detailed and immediate assessment of a seismic event begins to take shape.
Partnering for success
But this project remained largely a prototype. “We had the expertise in seismic monitoring technology, but we didn’t have the necessary big data processing capabilities,” Tanaka explains.
In 2016, Hakusan decided to pursue an expanded project called “myShindo.” myShindo involves many small devices all supplying real-time data via the cloud for advanced analytics using in-memory processing capabilities.
“And now with technologies supported by a digital innovation system, we can provide a more complete solution,” notes Tanaka.
myShindo is more than a network of personal seismometers. Today, if a major earthquake hits a big city like Tokyo, it can take days or even weeks to assess the actual damage to houses and infrastructure. The ability to quickly gather and analyze seismic data from inside buildings could help government agencies and first responders direct emergency resources more effectively after natural disasters.
In addition, this data would be invaluable to researchers and could lead to advancements in the construction of earthquake-proof buildings. It could also provide insight to commercial organizations such as utilities and insurance companies.
Improving lives around the globe
In a pilot program funded by the Tokyo municipal government, Hakusan has installed approximately 300 smartphone-based monitors in buildings across the city.
“But this is still a prototype level. With myShindo, we’ll be able to connect hundreds of thousands of devices,” say Tanaka.
Earthquakes, of course, are not restricted to Japan. Seismic events are felt from Alaska to New Zealand. And cities in poorer countries are especially vulnerable to significant damage and potential loss of life.
Hakusan sees applications for this technology around the globe.
“If we can precisely measure the actual movement of each building, we could predict the damage to individual structures,” says Tanaka. “Doing this in near real time, would give tremendous advantage to government agencies and first responders. It will help save lives and protect properties.”
For more on how technology can help disaster relief efforts, see Blockchain For Disaster Relief: Creating Trust Where It Matters Most.Comments