With the help of a smartphone's accelerometer - the motion-detection instrument - the app, called MyShake taps a phone's ability to record ground shaking from an earthquake.

The android app, which can be downloaded from Google Play Store, runs in the background with little power, so that a phone's onboard accelerometers can record local shaking any time of the day or night.

For now, the app only collects information from the accelerometers, analyses it and, if it fits the vibrational profile of a quake, relays it and the phone's GPS coordinates to the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, for analysis.

However, once enough people are using it, the seismologists plan to use the data to warn people miles from ground zero that shaking is rumbling their way.