Most smartphone users don’t use their devices while they sleep, unless they’ve mastered the arcane art of sleeptexting. Those devices sit silently and idly, lying in wait for the next time its owner’s touch wakes it up. Now, however, those “wasted” computing power can be put to good use even while we slumber, by lending their processing power to more altruistic causes, studying proteins and helping in the fight against diseases like Alzheimer’s, thanks to a new Folding@Home app now available on Sony‘s Xperia smartphones.
Folding@Home revolves around proteins, which, as the building blocks of our body, are of supreme interest to scientists. Proteins are able to perform its diverse functions by folding into billions of different shapes. Unfortunately, sometimes that folding process goes awry, and it is those errors that lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s. So it follows that to combat Alzheimer’s, scientists need to take a closer look at the protein folding process.
The problem is that protein folding happens in only a few milliseconds, too fast for even the most powerful lab computer. While the immediate answer might be “build a more powerful computer”, another solution is more efficient. Folding@Home studies protein folding by harnessing the collective computing power of potentially thousands of computers spread all over the world. It’s distributed computing at its finest and most selfless. It isn’t exactly a new technology or idea and there have been various implementations of the idea, even on mobile devices. This, however, is Folding@Home’s first stab at smartphones.
Sony and Folding@Home have actually already collaborated together before, which actually ended up breaking the world record for the biggest distributed computing network. That said, that was utilizing PlayStation 3 consoles. Now the two are targeting Xperia smartphones. In comparison, smartphones naturally offer significantly less computing power than a PS3, 30 GFLOPS (30 billion floating point operations per second). It would take about 50,000 such smartphones to match the 2007 record of PS3’s producing 1 PFLOP (1 trillion FLOPS). Considering there are exponentially more smartphone users than that, it isn’t hard to see it breaking that record soon.
Folding@Home for Android is currently in beta and is compatible with the Xperia Z series only, as well as the Xperia T3, T2 Ultra, M2 Aqua and C3, at least for now. In the future, it will open up to any device running Android 4.4. Interested users need not worry about the side effects of the app. Folding@Home will only run if the phone is on WiFi and is charging and you can setup the time range when it will run.