Vodafone asks customers to help fight COVID-19 in their sleep

In repurposing its DreamLab application, Vodafone is hoping the collective power of idle smartphones can virologists in combatting the coronavirus pandemic.

Working alongside scientists from Imperial College London, the Vodafone Foundation is repurposing the DreamLab app to speed-up research to find effective treatments for Covid-19. If successful, the Corona-AI project might reduce the time in which calculations are completed by 75%.

“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.

“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.”

The concept is relatively simple. As the vast majority of smartphones sit idle during the hours the user is asleep, this is unused compute power. It might be a small amount of compute power, but thousands of devices in collaboration could add much needed horsepower. Elements of these complicated equations can be farmed out to each of the devices, using the power of the collective.

Vodafone has estimated that should 100,000 users power the app for 6 hours every night for three months they can complete vital research that would take Imperial’s supercomputers a year to process. The aim is to trawl through data and identify existing drugs and food molecules which could aid the pursuit of a vaccine.

The Corona-AI project is split into two phases:

  1. Identify existing drugs and food-based molecules with anti-viral properties that may benefit those with Covid-19
  2. Optimise combinations of these drugs and food molecules to provide potential drug treatments and nutritional advice for those with Covid-19

“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,” said Helen Lamprell, General Counsel and External Affairs Director at Vodafone UK.

“If everyone in the UK connects, we have the potential to really make a difference in the fight against Covid-19”