University of California, Berkeley scientists have developed an Android app that can detect earthquakes using smartphones. Called MyShake, it is available in the Google Play Store.

The app intends to collate user data in order to determine the magnitude of earthquakes and issue alerts to potential victims in and around affected areas. The scientists have designed the app in such a way that it can analyse various levels of vibrations picked up by a smartphone's inbuilt accelerometer to determine the size and threat of earthquakes.

Richard Allen, director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and the project app lead, said: "MyShake can make earthquake early warning faster and more accurate in areas that have a traditional seismic network, and can provide life-saving early warning in countries that have no seismic network."

Allen, who is also a professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, cautioned that the app would not replace traditional US government-run seismic networks. However, the app developers propose that a public, socially networked seismic system could potentially be one of the most effective ways to develop early detection and natural disaster preparedness for many earthquake-prone countries like Nepal or Peru. The app can be especially useful in developing nations that have limited seismic networks or early warning systems.

The app operates on a highly sophisticated algorithm designed to distinguish between movements produced by humans and earthquakes, which could rule out the possibility of false alarms.

The app has so far had 93% accuracy in detecting earthquake vibrations when tested in simulations. "The system triggered rapidly and accurately, and that's really given us the confidence to now take MyShake out to the public for its big, real test," said Allen.

MyShake has been rolled out to Android smartphones and an iOS compatible version is slated to be released soon. Complete rollout of its services, including early warning alerts, should take place once the app has moved from all private and public testing phases.