Trumbull virtual gaming company confronts pandemic reality
TRUMBULL — As the owner of a virtual reality gaming company, Igor Lotkin is used to battling computer viruses. Now though, Lotkin’s 10 state-of-the-art gaming computers are part of a world-wide effort to combat the coronavirus through sheer computing power.
“Research facilities from around the world are networking to run protein-folding programs as part of the research into coronavirus,” Lotkin said Monday as high-definition monitors continually updated the status of protein simulations at his shop, Xperiment Virtual Reality in the Hawley Lane mall.
“That computer over there is running a test for Memorial Sloan Kettering,” he said pointing to one of his virtual gaming stations. The monitor indicates that the simulation is 42 percent complete, and will take another two hours to finish.
“These protein sequences apparently are extremely large programs,” he said. “Yesterday, we ran a test that took over 10 hours to run. But on a standard business laptop, it would have taken over 900 hours.”
Lotkin’s computers are networked into a project called Folding At Home, a Stanford University-created project that organizers describe as a “distributed computing project for disease research that simulates protein folding, computational drug design and other types of molecular dynamics.”
According to the Folding At Home website, the project has helped research Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease, plus Dengue Fever, zika and ebola.
Volunteers donate their idle computer time through a world-wide database that matches them with projects needing large-scale computing. Lotkin said the coronavirus outbreak has left him with lots of idle computer time.
“On a normal Saturday, we would do $1,500 to $2,000 in business,” he said. “This weekend we did $80.”
The problem for Lotkin is that his business requires people to gather in a group and attach a virtual reality mask to their face — two things health authorities are recommending against. The headsets are sanitized and sealed after each use, but that doesn’t bring people in the door, he said.
“We had three school field trips booked this week, but they are canceled,” he said. “That was $2,000 right there.”
And though many companies are in a similar money-losing situation, at least, Lotkin said, he is in a position to fight back.
“I’m here, I’ve got the computing and enhanced graphics power,” he said. “Let’s get a cure.”
More information on the business can be found at https://www.xperimentvr.com/.