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Vodafone Foundation and Imperial College partner on DreamLab app to fight COVID-19

David Murphy

Smartphone users are being encouraged to harness the collective processing power of their mobile phones to help speed up research into treatments for COVID-19 using the free DreamLab app, as part of a partnership between Vodafone Foundation and scientists at Imperial College London.

DreamLab is an 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 COVID-19 outbreak. It is available to download now in Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Romania and the UK. It will launch in Portugal, Ghana, South Africa, Lesotho and Germany on 27 April, and in Ireland, Greece, Turkey and Albania on 1 June.

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. Phase one is to identify uses of the existing drugs and food-based molecules with anti-viral properties. Phase two is to optimise combinations of these drugs and food molecules with anti-viral properties for improved efficiency against coronavirus infections.

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 Department of Surgery and Cancer at 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. To download the app, search for DreamLab in the Apple and Android app stores.

Joakim Reiter, Vodafone Foundation trustee and external affairs director, Vodafone Group, said: “We are pleased to offer our DreamLab technology to assist researchers at Imperial College in their work to fight coronavirus. Vodafone Foundation’s award winning DreamLab app has already supported discoveries through cancer research thanks to our customers’ participation, and we want to do our part now as society battles against COVID-19.”

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