Smartphone users the world over are being encouraged to harness the collective processing power of their mobile phones to help speed up research into treatments for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Through a partnership between Vodafone, The Vodafone Foundation and scientists at the highly-respected Imperial College London the free DreamLab app is used to crunch calculations for important COVID-19 research while users sleep.
DreamLab is a specialist app, developed by Vodafone Foundation Australia as an easy way for anyone to support cancer research while their phone is on charge overnight. Today, a new Corona-AI project has launched on the app, which will use the same technology to help in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak. It is free and available to download now in New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Spain, Romania and the UK, with other countries to follow in the coming weeks.*
Vodafone NZ CEO Jason Paris said this is an exciting opportunity for Kiwis to be part of the solution.
“Throughout the lockdown there are a lot of people in Aotearoa who, like me, may be wondering what they can do to help,” he said. “Using our smartphones to power research that can directly impact the spread of COVID-19 is a brilliantly simple way for us to do our part.
“Vodafone Foundation’s award-winning DreamLab app has already supported many fantastic research projects in cancer research thanks to the participation of so many people and now we have a chance to use it to battle this pandemic.”
The project combines artificial intelligence and the processing power of idle smartphones to speed up the discovery of novel anti-viral components in existing medicines and help the hunt for anti-viral molecules in foods. The app works by creating a network of smartphones to power a virtual supercomputer, capable of processing billions of calculations, without collecting or disclosing users’ location data. No personal data is downloaded to or processed from the user’s device.
Researchers believe that in the long run this work could speed up access to effective drugs and enable tailored treatments against this infectious disease.
The project is split into two phases:
While traditional experimental research and standard research methods could take years to develop, the mobile cloud-based processing approach of DreamLab can drastically reduce the time taken to analyse the huge amount of data that exists. A desktop computer running 24-hours a day would take decades to process the data, but a network of 100,000 smartphones running overnight could do the job in just a couple of months.
Dr Kirill Veselkov from the Imperial College London, who is leading the research, said: “We urgently need new treatments to tackle COVID-19. There are existing drugs out there that might work to treat it, but we need to do complex analyses using artificial intelligence to find out which molecule or combinations of molecules might be able to disrupt the virus when it’s inside the body. All of this takes a huge amount of computing power and DreamLab enables us to do this important work in a much shorter timeframe.”
DreamLab is free to download and free to use for Vodafone customers, meaning it does not eat into monthly data allowances. The app can also be used across other networks, with users choosing how much data they wish to donate, or connecting via Wi-Fi.