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Cell phones gear up to fight AIDS

Grid computing is nothing new. In one model of this kind of shared computing, people download programs that allow their computers or laptops to donate computing cycles to projects when the machines are otherwise idle. Scientists with big computing problems can upload a computational problem to a central server, and that server then takes advantage of all the idle computers to crunch numbers and work out a solution.

More grid computing

Now, Android phones can help solve the mysteries of the universe

Berkley makes room for the OS on its BOINC grid, so owners can lend their idle computing time to research projects. Read more.

In the past, this kind of volunteer computing has been done with desktops and laptops, because only they had enough power to make things worthwhile.

But now that smartphones are almost as powerful as desktop computers,  the folks over at IBM's World Community Grid and the Olsen Laboratory plan to leverage the power in everyone’s back pocket. They have developed an app  to distribute the computational burden related to finding new drugs that can combat resistant strains of AIDS. To participate in the program, users simply download the Android app and install it on their phone. Thereafter, the smartphone will be sent problems and use its idle processing power to work out solutions.

Even though today's phones are powerful, they still face limitations compared to desktop computers. According to the scientists working on the project, phones will only accept problems when they are connected to a Wi-Fi network, are close to fully charged and are plugged into an AC outlet. That way the project won't drain the battery or rack up usage charges. Basically, the phones will mostly be used at night when they are at home and being charged up.

Although users likely won't notice their phones chugging away, scientists are hopeful that the idle phones will discover the answer to some pretty complex questions. IBM keeps a running total of how much idle time has been devoted to the project. As of this week, over 30,000 people have downloaded the app and more than 288 years of runtime has been logged. If you've got an Android and some free idle computing cycles, why not help to cure AIDS while you sleep?

Posted by John Breeden II on Aug 12, 2013 at 9:33 AM


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