Protecting Millions from Earthquake Danger with a Single IoT-Enabled Mobile App


Hakusan Corporation is blending mobile technology with the Internet of Things (IoT) to help protect 127 million people from a major earthquake disaster.

Imagine being struck by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake. Within minutes, tsunami waves as high as 130 feet leave a trail of destruction across miles of shoreline and for miles inland. Damage to the reactors at a nearby nuclear power plant causes a third disaster days later, contaminating the natural resources that hundreds of thousands of people depend on for daily survival.

Although this scenario is hypothetical for many regions of the world, millions of people in Japan can tell harrowing stories of survival from this event on March 11, 2011. This largest earthquake in the nation’s recorded history and resulting disasters cost an estimated US$235 billion and the lives of 16,000 people.

Surely, this is not an historical event that anyone would want to witness. But for Hakusan Corporation, a small Tokyo-based manufacturing company, it was the perfect test for an innovative idea that could keep another earthquake disaster from becoming even worse.

Shaking Up Traditional Devices to Help Ensure Public Safety

Earthquakes are a daily threat to the people of Japan. On any given year, they can experience anywhere between 1,313 and 10,680 quakes. The Japanese national government also reports a 70% chance that a magnitude 7-class earthquake will impact approximately 30 million residents in the Tokyo area by 2042.

As a line of defense, the Japanese government currently maintains an advanced earthquake monitoring system and early warning program. The Japan Meteorological Agency monitors activity with 1,700 sensors scattered across the country. Even though this system helps mitigate potential disaster, it does have one drawback: the devices it uses only measure shaking of the ground, not the safety and resilience of the building structures on it.

Hakusan is hoping to fill that knowledge gap with a remarkable discovery it stumbled on one year before the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. “In 2010, we tested and confirmed that the accelerometer built into the iPhone is precise enough to measure the movement caused by earthquakes,” said Yoichi Tanaka, chief technical officer of Hakusan.

This finding led to the development of an iPhone app called iJishin. (Jishin means “earthquake.”) Engineers attached dozens of iPhones with the app installed to building walls and tested the technology when an earthquake occurred. During a seismic event, the accelerometer of each device recorded the amount of shaking experienced.

“SAP Cloud Platform provides the services platform we need to deliver a simple interface to our enterprise users.”

Yoichi Tanaka, chief technical officer of Hakusan

Racing Against Time to Deliver Ground-Breaking Insight

By blending Big Data analytics and monitoring sensors with a widely adopted mobile device, Hakusan is hoping to create a unique way to predict earthquake damage while promoting disaster prevention and social resilience. Over time, the company refined the app further just in time for the monumental test presented by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

The iPhone app operated just as expected. The data iJishin generated was so granular that Hakusan analysts could begin to assess the progress of the earthquake.

Although the test was successful, the app remained a prototype for five years. The technology couldn’t process the hundreds of thousands of data points generated by an event fast enough to fully understand what the data revealed.

Hakusan decided to partner with SAP and harness the SAP Leonardo digital innovation system and the SAP HANA platform to expand the iJishin project, now called myShindo.

The company will be using SAP Leonardo technology to create a more fully-featured product, and SAP Cloud Platform will be the platform for delivering the customer-facing interface.

“With this combination of technologies, the mobile app can process information faster to determine the integrity of building structures before the next earthquake or aftershock and alert first responders when a building is unsafe. Now, information can be processed and analyzed within 12 hours, instead of 48 hours,” observed Tanaka.

“Technologies supported by the SAP Leonardo digital innovation system enables us to provide a more complete solution.

“SAP HANA gives us unprecedented – almost unimaginable – data processing speed. It’s the only way we could prepare to handle data from 100,000 devices on the fly.”

Yoichi Tanaka

Finding the Momentum to Safeguard 127 Million Lives

Choosing SAP as its technology partner is giving Hakusan the boost it needs to move its mobile app from a prototype to a fully operational network of data-driven insight. In parallel, the company received additional funding from the Tokyo local government to expand the seismometer prototype.

As the myShindo project continues, Hakusan envisions connecting hundreds of thousands of devices to generate over 135 KB of data per device. Even if 30% of these devices record a given earthquake event somewhere in Japan, which happens nearly every day, 4 TB of data will be captured and analyzed after one year.

“If we can precisely measure the movement of each building, we can almost predict the actual damage to each structure,” Tanaka shared. “Doing this in near real-time will give tremendous advantage to the government officials and first responders. More important, it will help save lives.”

“For us, the decision to partner with SAP was clear. We have a common vision to make the world run better, and SAP has the technology to make it happen.”

— Yoichi Tanaka