Helping with COVID-19 Research Using Your Mobile Phone

DreamLab is a mobile phone app that enables the spare computing power of smartphones to be used for number-crunching in medical research projects. It was launched in 2015 by the Vodafone Foundation, initially to help researchers working on personalised cancer treatments.

How it Works

DreamLab combines the computing power of hundreds of thousands of smartphones to create what is effectively a supercomputer. The idea is that your phone can be processing research data while it is left on charge overnight. When the app is started it downloads tiny problems, solves them, then uploads the data. Therefore, as well as using the processing power of the phone, it also uses your wifi connection (or mobile data if you have this enabled). Although the app was developed by the Vodafone Foundation, you do not have to be a Vodafone customer to use it.

COVID-19 Research

In April 2020 a new COVID-19 research project was launched in association with Imperial College, London. Imperial College is a well respected university specialising in science, engineering and medicine. The research project aims to identify existing drugs and food-based molecules with antiviral properties. Hopefully this will enable tailored treatments to be developed for patients with COVID-19. At the time of writing Phase 1 of the project is 3.6% complete. Obviously, the project will complete quicker if more people use the app.

Using the DreamLab Android App

I downloaded the Vodafone DreamLab app from Google Play Store and installed it on my Samsung Galaxy A40 phone. The default project is “DRUGS”, a cancer research project, but you can choose one of several projects to support. I chose “Corona-AI” Phase 1. On the Settings menu you can set a monthly limit for wifi and mobile data. I set the mobile data limit to 0MB so that the app will only use the wifi. The app starts processing when the charger is connected to the phone. Apparently it only runs when the phone charge is above 80%, but I have not checked this. After running for several hours my phone felt quite warm, but not hot. I recommend leaving the case off or open when running DreamLab to reduce the possibility of overheating. Having said that, Vodafone claim that the app will be automatically suspended if the phone gets too warm.

After nearly 40 hours of running the app, my phone has apparently completed 151 calculations on the Corona-AI project (Phase 1).

Dreamlab Contribution menu
Fig.1 - Screenshot of "Contribution" screen

“The Lab”
Fig.2 - Screenshot of “The Lab”

Some people may be concerned about leaving their phone charging overnight in case the battery is overcharged. In fact this should not be a problem as the phone should stop charging the battery when the charge has reached 100%.

Note that I am sharing this information as a user of the DreamLab app. I have no connection with Vodafone.

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