Trying to solve the puzzle that is the coronavirus is going to need every bit of help it can, so for the moment, distributed computing resources are going to that.
If you’ve ever wanted to help scientists but didn’t quite know how, you might be able to do it while you slept, or while your computer was doing nothing. That’s largely been the premise of distributed computing projects, an idea that uses the excess processing power of devices to work through portions of complex problems before uniting it all in one big puzzle solution at another end of the equation.
Unsurprisingly, big problems need big solutions, and the bigger the problem, the harder it is for computers to break down the data.
Distributed computing aims to deal with that by spreading the load, and uses people power to break down complex mathematical and scientific issues by offloading aspects of the problems to their own devices, harnessing unspent and unused power, typically while they’re doing nothing or are asleep. Essentially, distributed computing is background processing in idle time, meaning you don’t have to much more than run an app, and it will get the data, break it down, and join in on the work of several other computers to solve a problem.
It’s a concept that has seen use in astrophysics, in chemistry, in climate science, and mathematics, and particularly in medicine, where its uses have been notable for molecular biology and cancer research.
In Australia, Vodafone and the Garvan Institute teamed up for that last one — curing cancer — with the goal of curing breaking down and understanding a list of cancers, creating the “DreamLab” app for phones and tablets, with the goal of using the power of overnight charging devices to break down complex data while their owners slept. It’s a project that has kept on going, though it’s seeing a bit of a change now.
While cancer is still a problem scientists need to grapple with, the issue of the COVID-19 coronavirus appears to be more pressing, and so DreamLab is being refocused on the new virus, using your phone’s idle time for to support a COVID-19 research project for The Imperial College London.
“Imperial College has a proven track record using DreamLab to find existing drugs and hyperfoods that help fight cancer,” said Alyssa Lane, Creator of Dreamlab and the Head of the Vodafone Foundation in Australia.
“The agile nature of DreamLab has enabled us to react quickly and refocus to address COVID-19 and the unprecedented set of circumstances the world is facing,” she said. “Combining the expertise of Imperial College and the power of more than 20 million Aussie smartphone users, DreamLab is sure to drive some incredible results.”
It means that users of the DreamLab app will see their phone’s idle time now go to work on solving COVID-19 dilemmas, with the distributed computing hopefully leading to a breakthrough in the near future.
And it’s one that while being supported by Vodafone, doesn’t care which telco you use. Available for both iOS and Android, DreamLab will work regardless of whether you use Vodafone, Optus, or Telstra, or any other telco in the land, available not just in Australia, but across other countries, including New Zealand, Italy, Spain, Romania, and the UK, with other countries coming soon, too.