Researchers at the University of California Riverside are asking PC users to help with earthquake research.
The university's Earth Sciences department has launched a network computing project which enlists consumer notebooks to detect seismic activity.
The Quake Catcher Network will link the laptops to a central server by way of the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing service.
Each laptop will use its internal accelerometer to monitor motion and report possible quakes. The aim of the project is to create a large grid of laptops that can report earthquakes in areas without dedicated large-scale seismographs.
"With a dense grid of detectors in place, an early warning can be sent through the internet to neighbouring cities should an earthquake strike," said Elizabeth Cochran, founder of the Quake Catcher Network.
"This will give people 10-20 seconds to prepare themselves before the seismic waves reach them.
"Quake Catcher Network will process data in real time as it comes in, and the network can stretch out to any region of the world. Besides being inexpensive, it makes an extremely small demand on CPU resources."
Quake Catcher is not the first initiative to employ regular consumer computers to aid research. The famous SETI at Home project began allowing users to process data in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence in 1999.
More recently, the Folding at Home programme enlisted volunteer PCs and used spare clock cycles from Sony's PlayStation 3 console to process protein folding data for medical research.