Vodafone app turns your phone into a coronavirus-fighting supercomputer

By Robert Scammell

Want to do your bit to help fight the coronavirus pandemic? Thanks to Vodafone and Imperial College London all you need is a smartphone and the DreamLab app.

Announced today, the Corona-AI project crowdsources the computing power of smartphones to analyse complex coronavirus research data. This data could help scientists identify existing drugs and food-based molecules that may help Covid-19 patients.

By pooling the processing power of thousands of phone owners it creates a virtual supercomputer that researchers say can carry out millions of calculations.

The best part? It carries out these calculations while you sleep. In fact, scientists at Imperial College estimate that 100,000 people using the DreamLab app for six hours a night for three months will conduct crucial research that would take Imperial’s supercomputers a year to complete.

And the more people that download and switch on the app each night, the more calculations the researchers can complete – increasing the likelihood that scientists can glean useful insights to help treat coronavirus.

DreamLab app split into two phases

Launched in 2017, the DreamLab app was created to conduct cancer research using the same collective processing power principle.

The Corona-AI project is split into two phases, with the first identifying existing drugs and food-based molecules with anti-viral properties that may benefit those with Covid-19.

The second phase will look to optimise combinations identified in phase one, with any insights on drug treatments or nutritional advice passed on to the medical profession.

Vodafone says that no personal data from people using the app will be “affected or used in any way”.

“We urgently need new treatments to tackle Covid-19. There are existing drugs out there that might work to treat it and the great thing about repurposing existing drugs is that we already know they are safe and therefore could get them to patients quickly,” said Dr Kirill Veselkov from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, who is leading the research.

“However, we have to do difficult and complicated analyses using artificial intelligence and all of this takes a huge amount of computing power. DreamLab creates a supercomputer that enables us to do this important work in a relatively short timeframe.”

Helen Lamprell, trustee and board member of the Vodafone UK Foundation and General Counsel and external affairs director at Vodafone UK said: “We’re working hard to keep the UK connected during this challenging time. We ask everyone to come together and harness the collective power of their smartphones by connecting to DreamLab. If everyone in the UK connects, we have the potential to really make a difference in the fight against Covid-19.”

Technology has become an important part of the world’s coronavirus response. In March IBM’s supercomputer – the most powerful in the world – identified chemicals that could halt the spread of the virus.

Schools have manufactured medical visors, while 3D printers have created vital ventilator parts.

To download the DreamLab app, search for DreamLab in the App store for iOS or Play Store for Android. Using the app for six hours a night will use 500MB in a month, but users can connect to Wi-Fi to avoid using mobile data.

Read more: UK Covid-19 symptoms mapped using health app user data