Distributed computing has been in practice for years now, and consists of temporarily allowing part of your PC’s processing capacity to be used in scientific investigations that require enormous mathematical calculations for simulations. Folding Home is an initiative from Stanford University that’s spent the past several years using computers from around the world to help with research on various diseases, and also offers the possibility of using your smartphone for that purpose thanks to a tool designed by Sony.
The simulations carried out are focused on protein folding, a biological process of enormous utility in designing pharmaceuticals to treat illnesses like Alzheimer’s, cancer, and Ebola. In this respect it’s already been possible to actively collaborate for the past several years: one of the best-known projects over the past several years is Berkeley’s BOINC platform, which lets you install a small program on your PC to help do calculations for studies of your choice about molecular biology and astrophysics, among others. Attempts were later made to gamify the process with projects like FoldIt (a 3D simulator for protein folding) or Play to Cure: Genes in Space to help Cancer Research UK with its research. We’ve actually talked about these and a few other projects here on the blog a while ago.
In this case, Folding Home follows the same premise but uses your Android device. The way it works is completely transparent and not at all instrusive, and it has just been revamped with the recent launch of its version 2.0. Once the application is installed, you can activate it at any time and leave it running in the background. The only requirement is to have your device connected to a WiFi network, your power cable plugged in, with the battery fully charged. From its interface you can choose from among the different available projects to collaborate on and see how many people are participating in each. Thus when you’re not using your smartphone you can invest its processing capacity in mass calculations, or at least in a small fraction thereof. As they say: Divide and conquer.
As we know, investment in research and tech development is dropping drastically in many countries, making access to the equipment necessary for certain projects very complicated indeed. With distributed computing you can lend a hand to certain groups or initiatives that aim to continue making progress in certain fields thanks to these collective calculation systems.