Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve seen folks making use of [email protected] (FAH) to help scientists study the virus and potentially find a vaccine or treatment.

The trouble with FAH is that it requires a desktop PC and the beefier that PC is, the better.

Now, however, Vodafone together with Imperial College London have an app for your smartphone that can help in the fight against COVID-19.

That app is DreamLab and while it was developed by Vodafone Foundation Australia to assist in cancer research, its capabilities have now been expanded to include COVID-19.

The project employs the use of artificial intelligence and idle smartphones to speed up the discovery of anti-viral components in existing medicines and foods.

DreamLab works similarly to FAH in that it corrals an array of smartphones and their processing power to create a virtual super-computer. While a single desktop PC might take decades to process data, a network of 100 000 smartphones could do the same job in a matter of months.

“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,” said lead researcher at the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College, Dr Kirill Veselkov.

It’s at this point that we have to point out that DreamLab will use data and – given our experience with FAH – your battery level may plummet quickly. For this reason the developers recommend charging your phone while DreamLab works in the background.

The other big consideration is data. DreamLab will ferry data off while you sleep and as such you could be in for a big shock when you wake up. For this reason we highly recommend that you only use DreamLab on an uncapped internet connection.

There is good news for South African Vodacom customers on that front. Vodacom has told Hypertext that its customers will not incur data costs while using DreamLab.

“Vodacom South Africa customers will not be charged for mobile data used by DreamLab while connected to the Vodacom network in South Africa. If you aren’t a Vodacom customer, you’ll be charged as per your mobile or WiFi plan for the data you contribute,” Vodacom explained.

DreamLab can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store for iOS and the Google Play Store for Android and is available for South Africans.