Users of Android phones can now help scientists learn about whether or not extraterrestrial life exists by donating unused processing power from their tablets or mobile phones to the Einstein@Home project.
To do this, Android users would have to download a software called the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing or the BOINC platform. This software will let you contribute unused processing power from your Android devices that will help analyze data for Einstein@Home, a project which aims to find pulsars, black holes and gravitational waves. Your contribution may also feed other researches on IBM’s World Community Grid.
This platform has been around since the late 1990s when it ran on more than one million personal computers. The premise, of course, is to pool as much unused processing power as possible so that researchers can use such power to find extraterrestrial life.
It initially crunched data for SETI@home project, an open source software platform. The platform was started by David Anderson, a computer science professor at the University of California at Berkeley. One of his grad students in 1995 asked him about the possibility of using the extra juice from the processing power of personal computers around the world in tracking extraterrestrial.
And although Anderson wasn’t really interested about extraterrestrial, he began the project to work on pooling the resources of computers around the world and powering a research. The platform’s popularity, however, eventually died down. But with the existence of over half a billion Android phones, Anderson has suddenly become optimistic again to take the project forward.
Understandably, this is a lot to ask from Android users. However, the platform won’t take too much of your phone’s battery life since it will only run when your phone is charging. Also, your mobile plan won’t suddenly balloon since the data-crunching will happen only when you are connected to a wireless network.
And to protect your phone, the software’s developer made the code smart enough to detect when your phone’s temperature is too high. It will automatically shut down. Also, the interface has a lot more graphics than the previous version.
It may be a little weird that Anderson devised this new BOINC platform to juice processing power from Android phones, but he figured out how such devices can contribute to the project since they now have powerful CPUs and processors.
When it comes to iPhones and iPads though, Anderson said it wouldn’t be possible since Apple does not allow the creation of an app within its app store. Also, the BOINC software would need to tap into the processor—something that Apple will surely not allow. And since Apple is highly restrictive, Anderson said it would impede in the whole point of BOINC’s open platform.
In a report by Wired, Anderson said he believes the contribution of Android phones alone can help the project get back to its feet. He also has faith that the social tools now being used by smartphones and tablets users will drive the distribution of the software to new heights. And if you ever feel weirded out by this project, maybe knowing that you are helping scientists in their research will put your mind at ease.