US Geological Survey released the results of a study Friday that found the sensors in smartphones and other similar devices could be used to detect early ground movement to warn people about a potential earthquake.
While the sensors in your iPhone or Android device aren't anywhere near as accurate as the advanced early warning systems the USGS relies on, the system could be used in poorer areas that lack the funding for the high tech detection approach.
The ShakeAlert system is one of the scientific-grade warning systems that will soon be used on the west coast -- but it costs roughly $145 million dollars.
"The U.S. earthquake early warning system is being built on our high-quality scientific earthquake networks," the USGS Coordinator for that system said. "But crowdsourced approaches can augment our system and have real potential to make warnings possible in places that don't have high-quality networks."
By using smart phones, data can be easily gathered from pretty much anywhere on the planet. A map created by NASA and Pacifico shows how researchers can use shared GPS data from multiple cell phones in the same area to detect changes in the the displacement of the ground.
The sensors may only be useful for catching the most dangerous and damaging quakes -- about magnitude 7 or larger. For context, the earthquake that hit the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989 was a 6.9 magnitude, in 1994 an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 devastated Los Angeles, and in February of this year a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of Japan.