The MyShake app, developed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley can enable your phone to function as both a personal seismometer and an early warning system. Now available as a free download for Android smartphones in the Google Play store, this app uses the accelerometer in your phone (the device that lets your phone adjust the screen when you turn it sideways) and GPS to measure how much shaking is happening in a given location.
The researchers estimate that in order to accurately detect the origin and start time of large earthquakes in a location, there need to be at least 300 phones equipped with the app in a roughly 4,761 square mile area.
"Currently, we have a network of 400 seismic stations in California, one of the densest in the world," project leader Richard Allen said in a statement. "Even if we get only a small fraction of the state's 16 million mobile phones participating in our program, that would be a many-orders-of-magnitude increase in the amount of data we can gather."
When enough phones have this app functioning in them and start to receive shaking that resembles an earthquake, this data can be pooled together in a computer and analyzed. If it's a large earthquake, in the future alerts can be generated from the phones of people closest to the earthquake's epicenter, and sent out ahead of the shaking, giving people further away time to prepare.
Dedicated seismometers are machines that measure shaking during an earthquake, but they can also pick up other signals like sonic blasts, fans cheering at football games, explosions and bear attacks. This app is specifically trained to pick up on solely earthquake vibrations.
The app doesn't use as much power as previous iterations (which required that the phone be dedicated almost entirely to earthquake detection) and can run in the background of your phone's normal activities. It is available for download only on android.