How to cure a disease with your smartphone

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How to cure a disease with your smartphone
David Anderson, University of California (Berkeley).

Can altruism thrive in the age of the Bitcoin?

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Within weeks, apps will begin to appear on mobile app stores that allow mobile phone users to donate spare processor capacity to groundbreaking research projects.

David Anderson, the principal engineer behind the BOINC volunteer computing project run out of the University of California at Berkeley, told iTnews last week that he now has a prototype mobile app running and expects to release it within six weeks.

BOINC is a program used by altruistic PC users to donate their idle compute power to research efforts like Stanford's Folding@Home, a project that ultimately aims to cure diseases, or Berkeley's SETI@Home, a project that aims to explore the potential for life in space.

“BOINC is a way to take a program and run it on a very large number of computers,” explains Anderson.

“Think of it as an OS for large-scale distributed computing - a layer of software that sits underneath your application, distributes executable and data files to home computers, running executables against those data files and submitting the results back to a central server.”

For many years, PCs have had more processing power than most users require during the bulk of their day, and the collective power of thousands of them have delivered compelling results for BOINC-powered projects.

The potential for harnessing the power of smartphones to aid the same research projects is a relatively novel idea.

“Mobile devices are the way of the future,” Anderson told iTnews. “Not only are they computationally powerful now - comparable to a four year old laptop, but I see them converging to the speed of the latest laptops.

"And mobile devices designed for energy efficiency from ground up - they are far more energy efficient per watt.”

Anderson found that porting BOINC to Android was “easier than we thought it would be".

“Android is Linux under the hood," he explained. "We built a new GUI in Java using the Android toolkit, and now we have about 50 testers running some apps on that.”

These apps use the computing power of a smartphone only when it is plugged in and charged to at least 95 percent, and only when it is connected on Wi-Fi.

But before you go searching for ‘BOINC’ in the Google Play store, you needn’t bother. While BOINC will be the engine behind the scenes, it will be the actual applications it powers that users will be able to download to their phones.

The first will likely be Climateprediction.net - a volunteer computing project run out of Oxford University that uses the combined power of tens of thousands of users to simulate weather patterns for more reliable climate predictions. It has resulted in 300,000 models and five published scientific papers to date.

The technology required to run these applications on a smartphone isn’t complicated, Anderson said. All most of them need now is a better GUI to suit the smartphone era.

Read on to find out what happened when Anderson asked Bitcoin to lend a hand...

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