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Covid-19: DreamLab in South Africa completes Phase 1 of its Corona-AI project

Countries around the world are slowly emerging from their coronavirus lockdowns, but the threat of the global pandemic is far from over.

Scientists are researching every possible treatment to fight Covid-19, which is where your smartphone comes in. With Vodafone Foundation’s DreamLab app, your phone could dramatically speed up this important work.

DreamLab works by using the collective processing power of idle smartphones to analyse complex data, helping speed up vital research for a team of scientists at Imperial College London. A desktop computer running 24-hours a day would take decades to process the data, but a network of 100,000 smartphones running overnight can do the job in just a couple of months.

Thanks to our DreamLab users, Phase 1 of the Corona-AI project is now complete. Since the project launched in April, our users have crunched nearly 100 million calculations.

The speed and scale of this research has been made possible with around 140,000 devices completing over 1 million calculations every night using DreamLab. That’s about 10 calculations per night per device, with the combined processing power from DreamLab several times faster than Imperial’s own supercomputer.

Corona-AI Phase 1 – 100 million calculations
140,000 phones crunch 1.3 million calculations every night
140,000 phones = three supercomputers

This phase has focused on examining thousands of existing drugs and food molecules, and identifying those with anti-viral properties, which could be used to treat patients with coronavirus.

The project uses artificial intelligence (AI) to understand what effects existing drugs and food molecules might have on the genetic profile of Covid-19 in mathematical simulations. The AI selects which drugs and foods to examine based on insights from research scientists and also on its calculations of which are most likely to succeed.

Now Phase 1 of the Corona-AI project is complete, Imperial College will publish these initial findings and then Phase 2 will commence. While Phase 1 looked at the effects of individual drugs and food molecules on Covid-19, Phase 2 will look at optimising combinations of these drugs and foods for improved efficiency against the disease.

With both phases, it will be up to researchers in the lab to replicate any promising findings from Corona-AI’s mathematical simulations in the real world. Only then, could any treatments be developed further.

Dr Kirill Veselkov, who is the lead scientist on the project at Imperial College London, emphasised the importance of developing treatments, even if an effective vaccine is found.

“Any potential treatments developed from this project would complement a vaccine, not replace it,” said Dr Veselkov. “Especially if the virus mutates and adapts, staying with us in the years ahead”.

This work will be made possible if we all plug in our smartphones (and tablets) every night and power the DreamLab app. Available for iOS and Android, it can be downloaded for free from the App Store and Google Play.