Citizen Scientists Continue to Measure Earthquake Data
Tom Spendlove posted on March 31, 2017 | 2070 views

Branden Christensen and his team at OSOP are passionate about seismic activity. Their focus was on denser seismic networks, and the resulting increases in speed and accuracy when locating earthquakes. Working with Costa Rica, Panama, and other countries the networks were implemented to detect every earthquake nationwide. The Internet of Things began to explode and OSOP started to think about personal seismographs for citizen scientists.

After launching a successful Kickstarter campaign for the Raspberry Shake, a personal seismograph, several design enhancements were made to the system. Branden answered some questions for us about the development and design considerations of Raspberry Shake. An early hunch the developers had was that their target market probably already had maker inclinations, and more than likely had some single board computers sitting around the house. Designing with the Raspberry Pi Model B and making the system backward compatible opened a low cost application to anyone who had a Raspberry Pi already. The DIY kit that includes all the seismograph pieces except the Raspberry Pi is still the best selling version of the device.

Cost of a personal seismograph was the biggest design challenge. After spending decades working with governments, universities, and geophysical institutes the maker market was an entirely new frontier. Every component was examined for cost to benefit attributes, and testing was done to make sure that these personal sub-$500 seismographs worked as well as a government application that cost ten to one hundred times more.

Christensen is also quick to point out that often for niche companies, the hardware part is often easy but the innovation is difficult. OSOP used Docker for their application as a totally new platform, and says that rapid adoption of new technologies in hardware and software can be the strength of a small tech company.

Scaling from a few hundred units per year to a thousand units in one crowdfunding campaign cycle was a difficult challenge. Timelines were tightened and shipping and customs between China and Panama has been a struggle. Finding a manufacturing partner in China who respected the fidelity of the bill of materials and work instructions was difficult but once the right facility was targeted failure rates are down to fractions of a percentage for the first batch of 750 parts.

The Raspberry Shake is a great example of engineers working with one foot in the large scale industrial and global market while also catering to the needs of small scale makers. This is all done with the overall goal of giving the world better data about earthquakes and seismic activity. The StationView is a real time visual of all active earthquakes happening across the team's citizen scientist network. There's an amazing amount of information online for users, from a Quick Start Guide, User's Manual, DIY instructions, Licensing information, and the Google Group where all users can discuss their passion for making and seismic activity.

(Images courtesy of

Recommended For You