A new app for smartphones which could help predict earthquakes was made available on Friday. The MyShake app - available now for the Android operating system - is a result of work done by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

Scientists say they are hoping to turn people’s cellphones into a great source of data - which can then be analysed in the event of earth tremors. The technology uses a smartphone’s movement sensors - called accelerometers - to detect unusual patterns.

Anyone in the world is invited to take part in the “citizens science experiment” by downloading the app. The tagline advertising MyShake reads “help build the global seismic network.”

The hope is that information from thousands of devices during a seismic event can be quickly collated at a central server, and people further away from the epicentre can be warned in time to take evasive or appropriate action.

At present, social media seems to be the fastest way people get a warning of earthquakes near to them, especially in tremor-prone regions like California. Standard messages on Facebook or Twitter feature comments like, "Did you feel that?!"

The LA Times reports the app is part of a wider $38 million effort to develop early warning systems along the West Coast of America.

The US Geological Survey has already successfully tested its ShakeAlert prototype - a technology that also establishes potentially dangerous seismic activity in seconds.

Although a longer term predictive tool remains a pipe-dream, it’s hoped early warning systems may help in preventing the worst effects of earthquake damage.

An instant alert, for instance, might tell surgeons to stop operating, order trains to slow down and stop, and automatically open lift doors to prevent people from getting trapped inside.

Watch demo video:

Richard Allen, director of the Seismological Laboratory at Berkeley, hopes one day systems such as MyShake could help in other regions of the world, like Nepal.

Pointing to the fact there are 6 million smartphones in the country, Allen says a successful running of the app could provide an invaluable early warning in hotspots like Kathmandu.

People interested in the app can get it as a download from Google, or at the Berkeley website: http://myshake.berkeley.edu/)

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