Taiwanese mobile phone manufacterer HTC has unveiled an initiative that aims to turn the collective processing power of its smartphones into a supercomputer that could be used to unlock insights into diseases such as cancer, AIDS and Alzheimers. 

The Power to Give initiative, which is supported by an Android app, aims to harness the unused processing power on people's mobile devices to support projects being run through volunteer computing platforms. Currently, the fight against cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer’s; the drive to ensure every child has clean water to drink and even the search for extra-terrestrial life are all being tackled by volunteer computing platforms.

HTC said one million HTC One smartphones could provide similar processing power to that of one of the world’s 30 supercomputers (one petaflop), adding that this could drastically shorten the research cycles for organisations that would otherwise have to spend years analysing the same volume of data, potentially bringing forward important discoveries in vital subjects by weeks, months, years or even decades.

The move to harness Android devices mirrors the approach used a decade ago by researchers to harness unused PC processing power.

"The impact that this project will have on the world over the years to come is huge. This changes everything,” said Dr David Anderson, Inventor of the Shared Computing Initiative BOINC at the University of California, Berkeley, who helped to develop the initiative.

Once the HTC Power to Give app has been downloaded, smartphone owners can select the research programme they want to divert a proportion of their phone’s processing power to when it is charging and connected to a Wi-Fi network. 

One of the projects HTC is looking to support at launch is IBM's World Community Grid, which gives anyone an opportunity to advance science by donating their computer, smartphone or tablet's unused computing power to humanitarian research. To date, the World Community Grid volunteers have contributed almost 900,000 years' worth of processing time to cutting-edge research.

HTC chairwoman Cher Wang said: “We’ve often used innovation to bring about change in the mobile industry, but this programme takes our vision one step further. With HTC Power To Give, we want to make it possible for anyone to dedicate their unused smartphone processing power to contribute to projects that have the potential to change the world.

“We’ve been discussing the impact that just one million HTC Power To Give-enabled smartphones could make, however analysts estimate that over 780 million Android phones were shipped in 2013 alone. Imagine the difference we could make to our children’s future if just a fraction of these Android users were able to divert some of their unused processing power to help find answers to the questions that concern us all.”

The HTC Power To Give app is available to download from the Google Play store for owners of the HTC One family, HTC Butterfly and HTC Butterfly S. HTC plans to make the app more widely available to other Android smartphone owners in the coming six months as the beta trial progresses.