With half a billion Android smartphones shipping worldwide in 2012 alone, it’s hardly a stretch to imagine that the global population of Android devices is nearing one billion. What if their idle CPU cycles could be harnessed for the good of humanity? With that in mind, the BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) project has just launched its first official Android app.
Basically, BOINC is a distributed computing framework developed by researchers at the University of California Berkeley-based Space Sciences Laboratory, to tap into the idle compute cycles of millions of volunteers’ PCs and apply that enormous aggregate resource to analyzing data collected by the nonprofit, NASA-sponsored SETI Institute. Eventually, the BOINC project broadened its scope and opened up its infrastructure to a diverse range of applications (more on that below). And now it’s arrived on Android.
Currently, BOINC’s distributed computing infrastructure has more than two million volunteer participants, resulting in an aggregate average processing capability of about 7.2 petaFLOPS. Those who volunteer their computers’ idle cycles to the cause can choose among a long list of projects, of which SETI@home remains the most popular.
Here’s the current top-10 list of distributed computing projects competing for users’ idle computing resources…
- SETI@Home — Look for radio evidence of extraterrestrial life
- Einstein@Home — Search for gravitational signals emitted by pulsars
- World Community Grid — Runs multiple sub-projects that focus on humanitarian research including HIV/AIDS, cancer, dengue fever, malaria, or developing more nutritious rice and affordable clean energy.
- Rosetta@Home — Help researchers develop cures for human diseases
- WUProp@Home — a non-intensive project that collects workunits properties of BOINC projects (e.g. computation time, memory requirements, checkpointing interval, report limit)
- MilkyWay@home — Study the gravitational potential of the Milky way
- Climate Prediction — Study climate change
- PrimeGrid — Search for mega primes and special form numbers
- SIMAP — Protein sequence comparison to support manifold biological research
- LHC@Home Classic — Improve the design of the CERN LHC particle accelerator
How BOINC works
As described on the project’s wiki and illustrated below, this is how the distributed BOINC computing platform works.
How BOINC works
(click image to enlarge)
- Your PC gets a set of tasks from the project’s scheduling server. The tasks depend on your PC: for example, the server won’t give it tasks that requires more RAM than you have. Projects can support several applications, and the server may send you tasks from any of them.
- Your PC downloads executable and input files from the project’s data server. If the project releases new versions of its applications, the executable files are downloaded automatically to your PC.
- Your PC runs the application programs, producing output files.
- Your PC uploads the output files to the data server.
- Later (up to several days later, depending on your preferences) your PC reports the completed tasks to the scheduling server, and gets new tasks.
- This cycle is repeats indefinitely
BOINC Android app
The newly-released Android BOINC app is available for direct download from BOINC’s website, as well as from the Google Play store and Amazon’s Android App Market. The app, whcih is said to be respectful of the host device’s battery and cellular data resources, includes settings through which the user can specify under what conditions it consumes local resources.
Images showing several of the Android BOINC app’s functions and settings screens appear below.
Android BOINC app screenshots
(click imgages to enlarge)
BOINC new Android app is derived from its BOINC Linux app for PCs, which is readily available for Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, and Gentoo and can be operated either through the GUI or headlessly.
Versions of the BOINC client app for Android, Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X systems, are available for direct download here, and the official Android BOINC app can be found on Google Play here. Additionally, a handy guide to choosing BOINC projects is available from the boinc.berkeley.edu website, here.