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Distributed computing comes to smartphones

Paul Brislen, Editor. 14 May 2018, 7:36 am

Your desktop PC might have been looking for aliens for many years, but now your cellphone won't feel left out.

Vodafone New Zealand has launched a new app that uses your phone to help crunch cancer research data while you sleep.

The Vodafone DreamLab app (available for both Android and iOS) was developed by the Vodafone Foundation in Australia and is now available for New Zealand users. The app was built in partnership with the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and is currently devoting spare processor cycles to Project Genetic Profile - a programme of work to help researchers better understand the genetic make-up of four different cancers. The aim is to help personalise treatment plans to each individual patient in the future.

A second project (named Drugs Repurposing Using Grids of Smartphones, or Project DRUGS for short) is looking at ways to speed up the drug discovery process - that is, using existing drugs to treat different types of cancer.

Such programmes of work are not new to the computing world. The ever-popular Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) At Home programme has been in place for many years and uses a screen saver model to "borrow" processor time from computers that have the screen saver operating. 

Since its launch in 1999, [email protected] has logged millions of days' worth of processing time. In 2011, [email protected] was averaging 3.5PFLOP (petaFLOPs) and was in operation on some five million computers in 226 countries.

Anyone can sign up to use the DreamLab app - there is no requirement to be a Vodafone customer, however the company does zero rate any data being transferred over its mobile network.


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Kieron Horide-Hobley 22 May 2018, 9:25 am

If you visit the BOINC projects page at you'll see a number of projects are supported on Android and have been for some time, including medical research. I suspect you have to be a bit of a geek to have stumbled upon the BOINC platform.

What is new in NZ is bundling distributed computing into a consumer-friendly package for mobile devices, with television advertising and free data. Vodafone is making use of this to create social responsibility messaging around its brand, which suggests how scientists have possibly been missing a trick for all this time.

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