Another Tool in War on Terror?

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-06-23 Print this article Print


So for example, a Predator drone, allegedly belonging to the U.S. Air Force (but really belonging to the CIA or some other murky three-letter agency), records images of activity far below. Because of a variety of factors, these images aren't really all that clear.

But because the drone can be fitted with a GPU-based computing module, the initial image processing can take place in real time before the image is transmitted to the drone's controllers and perhaps from there to members of the armed forces. This may have been why Osama bin Laden's courier, who was being tracked by a drone, could be identified from such a long distance. It was the courier who gave the Navy Seals the indication they needed of bin Laden's whereabouts.

So was Nvidia one of the reasons we found Osama bin Laden? As you can imagine, neither Nvidia, the CIA nor the military will say. But that courier had to be followed somehow and it needed to be done remotely. There are only so many ways that this can be accomplished.

Of course, this is just one example and perhaps only a theoretical example of what you can do with GPU-based parallel processing. Because the current Nvidia technology can put 512 processing cores on a single chip, the opportunities are substantial. NASA is using this technology for space science applications, and Nvidia has published some weather modeling modules on its Website. These are highly complex mathematical processes and could take a very long time on a traditional computer, even a supercomputer.

One feature I was shown is the ability to create extremely complex flight simulations in a few minutes, versus nearly a month of computer time using Xeon processors. The simulation I saw was of a night landing by a jet fighter on an aircraft carrier in bad weather. This is a problem so complex that many pilots simply can't handle it, and simulators are a way to save lives.

But as the use of GPU computing modules spreads, so does the type of software that you'll find supporting it. Right now, most applications are based on Nvidia's CUDA programming. But that could change. There are rumors that Microsoft is looking at Nvidia's GPU modules for part of its high performance computing initiative, for example. That could mean, among other things, that you could see a really, really fast version of Windows. 

Editor's Note: This story was corrected to state the correct number of processing cores that can be built into a single chip with current Nvidia technology.


Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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