Earthquake Richter Scale
Earthquake Richter ScaleReuters

The accelerometer, that has always been a mainstay on every smartphone, ensures that one seldom needs to tap on the full-screen button while keeping an eye on one's fitness goals. Now, the average smartphone accelerometer could potentially save lives and possibly even avert natural calamities as scientists have developed an app that uses a smarphone's accelerometer to detect earthquakes.

The earthquake app, MyShake, taps reads the vibrations picked up by the smartphone's accelerometer and beams the data back to the researches at the University of California Berkley (UC Berkley), who developed it. The app is now available on the Android Play Store for free and harnesses the power of a global network of smartphones to monitor earthquakes.

According to the scientists at UC Berkley, "The app runs 'silently' in the background on your phone using very little power — just like the step-tracking fitness apps. When the shaking fits the vibrational profile of an earthquake, the app sends the anonymous information to our central system that confirms the location and magnitude of the quake."

PTI reported that the data collected is sent to UC Berkley's Seismological Laboratory in California. According to IANS, the app has successfully recorded earthquakes in Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan and across North America, including induced earthquakes in Oklahoma. A Japanese version of the app has also been released to cater to the earthquake-prone Japan.

While Richter scales are more capable of detecting earthquakes, the scientists believe that the ubiquity of smartphones can make a huge difference in how and where earthquakes are detected. Through an XKCD-esque comic, the creators of MyShake explain that smartphone accelerometers can detect earthquakes of magnitude 5 and higher from within a 10-km radius.

The scientists, who expect the app to provide warnings in advance in the near future, are also developing an iPhone app.