IBM Taps Into Android Devices for Volunteer Computing Effort

Android device users can donate their device's computing power for IBM research and other scientific efforts as part of a volunteer computing play.

IBM is enabling Android mobile device users to share their device power to assist researchers in solving some of the world's great challenges.

With the new capability, Android device users can empower IBM research projects and other scientific efforts such as fighting AIDS and discovering new stars. IBM announced that for the first time, owners of Android-based smartphones and tablets can now "donate" the surplus computing power of their devices to science. With the additional processing power from smartphones, researchers from IBM's World Community Grid and the Einstein@Home project will accelerate their search for medical cures and for unknown pulsars.

Using what is known as volunteer computing, these scientists already tap into a pool of donated computer processing power to conduct their simulations and data analysis. Volunteer computing enables people and organizations to contribute toward scientific progress with little effort, and provides researchers with what are essentially very powerful, globally distributed supercomputers.

IBM officials said that up to now, volunteer computing has used traditional computers such as desktops and laptops. However, as mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have become more powerful, energy-efficient and numerous, they are able to offer considerable computing power to scientists.

Indeed, there are now about 900 million Android devices, and their total computing power exceeds that of the largest conventional supercomputers, IBM said.

To allow these devices to participate, volunteer computing software developed at the University of California, Berkeley, called Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC), has just been updated. Owners of devices that use Android 2.3 or higher can now participate in citizen science efforts by downloading BOINC from the Google Play site, then choosing the projects to which they want to contribute.

The BOINC project, which choreographs the technical aspects of volunteer computing, was founded in 2002 at the University of California, Berkeley, with support from the National Science Foundation. Development of its Android version was funded partly by the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, IBM World Community Grid, the National Science Foundation and Google.

To preserve battery life, minimize recharge time and avoid the use of allotted data on cell phone plans, smartphones and tablets running BOINC will only perform calculations when they are being charged, when the battery life is above 90 percent and when they are connected to wireless local area networks (WiFi). While these are the default settings when BOINC for Android is downloaded, users can further customize the rules governing its use.