Your washing machine or air-conditioning unit could one day be networked in a giant global grid and used to help efforts such as the SETI@Home project, Folding@Home, the now ended Lifesaver project, or even LHC@Home.
Well…not quite, but a simple system for hooking together domestic gadgets that contain a compact computer chip could help save on your power costs by allowing your air-conditioning unit to do weather forecasts, or help you extract the text for your next blog post from your digital dictation machine.
According to Takehiko Demiya, Tomoki Yoshihisa, and Masanori Kanazawa of Kyoto University, Japan, the kinds of compact computers present in modern white goods – washing machines, tumble dryers, refrigerators and even computerised air-conditioning units, have none of the memory capacity nor the processing speed of a standard desktop or notebook computer. They are certainly small chips when compared with the kind of supercomputing power used to control large-scale physics experiments such as the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) fired up recently at CERN, birthplace of the Web.
Writing in International Journal of Communication Networks and Distributed Systems, Demiya and colleagues outline a plan for creating a Grid, a distributed network, of compact computers, that could help solve many problems despite the shortcomings of white-goods computers.
Anyone who has tried the SETI@Home screensaver or similar downloads, is probably aware that these tools utilize spare power on your computer while it’s online but not in use. With a large task, in this case analyzing radio signals from space, broken down into bite-sized chunks, each desktop computer can tackle a small part of a much bigger problem, with all the results from hundreds of thousands, if not millions of computers, being pooled together. It is akin to a supercomputer running a computation across dozens of processors. An unwieldy job becomes manageable.
There is no reason why the concept of distributed computing, or a Grid network, cannot be applied to lesser computers, such as those found in domestic and office devices, other than PCs and iPhones. Indeed, the researchers explain the idea of Grid computing has attracted a great deal of attention in recent years because it essentially has no limits.
The researchers see the potential of a compact computer Grid as helping improve the way such devices themselves work, rather than searching for ET or solving biomedical problems like protein folding.
For instance, some devices, such as solid-state voice recorders, can record one’s voice, but lack the power to do voice recognition either to identify the speaker or convert voice to text. These two features would be very useful to a wide range of people.
Similarly, air-conditioning units usually have a thermostat, but a more powerful and energy-efficient system would monitor outside weather conditions and base its output on its forecast.
By networking such devices, the principles of Grid computing could be engaged and allow multiple compact computers to work in parallel to solve sophisticated problems that would normally be only possible with a modern desktop PC.
The team has developed a new grid computing system using the compact computers that are embedded in many home electronics devices that allows complex tasks to be shared by many networked devices but without interrupting the everyday tasks to which the device is usually dedicated, keeping people cooling, washing dishes, drying clothes etc. Grid networking such devices could lead to their more efficient and effective use as well as opening up the possibility of novel applications.
Takehiko Demiya, Tomoki Yoshihisa and Masanori Kanazawa (2008). Compact grid: a grid computing system using low resource compact computers Int. J. Communication Networks and Distributed Systems, 1 (2), 231-247