A smartphone is capable of a great many things here in 2019. With the evolution of technology and downloadable apps, it's easier than ever to donate just a few of those cycles of downtime to science.
Ten of 20 years ago, harnessing mobile computing devices for a variety of scientific purposes was merely a concept used on the many Star Trek television series. Smartphone technology is now capable of performing some of these duties to revolutionize health, disease research and understanding our planet.
We'll highlight just some of the available apps on the market you can download for your smart devices. We'll also address how these devices use that processing power and the data connection associated with it.
How do the apps use your smartphone for science?
The apps allow you to find and contribute your processor to these projects allowing the power of cloud computing to collect data and send it back to the project's office computer. These apps, however, are not all equal and each has their own sets of benefits and issues.
These apps primarily run while your device is plugged into an AC adapter, using your home Wi-Fi when your phone is idle. Your project contributions may vary based on the app and smartphone used. Below are a few apps out there that you can use.
BOINC is the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing at the University of California at Berkeley. It has hosted dozens of science projects since 2002.
- Safe and provided by Berkeley University
- About 30 science projects use BOINC, including Einstein@Home, IBM World Community Grid and SETI@home
- Various projects that investigate diseases, global warming, pulsars and other types of scientific research
- There is no iPhone app and the Android app hasn't been updated since July 3, 2016, making it very obsolete by app standards
- User reports for how it isn't very user-friendly to use or navigate the projects
- User reports on the progress for fetching data can stop progressing due to a variety of reasons ranging from Wi-Fi connections (that are still connected), battery issues (while running on AC adapter) and not enough memory.
MyShake is also hosted by Berkeley. Using a smartphone's accelerometer, MyShake detects earthquakes as they happen, building a worldwide network of earthquake detectors.
- Local data is overwritten on a regular basis to ensure it's not taking too much storage space
- Uses the sensors in your smartphone to record earthquake shaking
- The data is used to study earthquake processes from the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory
- MyShake also doesn't have an app for iPhone
- Some users report the app causes a drain in battery life
DreamLab is hosted by the Garvin Institute of Medical Research at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The institute is using the DreamLab app to process DNA information to fight disease, including cancer and autoimmune disease.
- The last update was March 7, 2019
- It has a dark mode functionality
- Only works when connected to Wi-Fi, it's plugged in, and the battery is over 80%
- User reports that despite setting unlimited data, it will cap out at 500mb
- User reports on occurrences where the app can have a difficulty detecting when it's charging, where no calculations are performed resulting in having to manually enable it yourself
Watch more about DreamLab below.
Give it up for science!
Allowing your phone to be used for scientific purposes is really up to you but great in concept. The benefits alone for the scientific community during you and your phone's downtime could help some greater purpose and doesn't harm your device with any malicious content.
Some apps work great for their purpose but others seem to fall short with technical issues due to either lack of updates or other unknown variables.
If you don't mind donating some cycles to science and research from your smartphone, this may still be something worth looking into.