Here´s an idea that a FONero from Canada, Raúl San Martín, sent me.

Routers are just little computers that direct or “route” your data and messages to their destinations on the Internet. Just like your desktop PC, routers have RAM, disks (flash memory), and a processor (CPU). Just like your PC, routers can run small computer programs. With eventually 1 million FON routers deployed we will have a lot of collective computational power that could solve large complex problems, if these can be broken into millions of smaller problems. This distributed computing approach is used today for scientific research, to find the cure of diseases, influenza vaccines, cancer drugs, leukemia, Alzheimer, for climate prediction, to find celestial bodies, simulation, financial analysis, and so on.

Imagine 1 million routers x 8h/day crunching numbers when the routers are idle. That is roughly equivalent to a computer running at 100,000 GigaHertz. Could we all contribute to mankind without even turning our PC’s on? The FON user would be able to select a favourite cause or problem to solve through the router’s GUI, the router will then automatically download the appropriate software agent and run it when the router is idle.

We will have an amazing computational power with FON waiting to be exploited, it costs almost nothing and would require no effort or installation from the user.

Saving lives with P2P

D2OL (The Rothberg Institute) is downloadable software to find drugs for a number of diseases, and they want it running on TIVOs and on Xboxes.

They have current statistics about each drug being tested and on the top users/top teams (most calculations done):

Alzheimer distributed computing

Developing an influenza vaccine

Cancer and leukemia

Anthrax, smallpox

Climate prediction, finding planets and new celestial objects

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Anthony on July 7, 2006  · 

This is an idea I’ve submited severals weeks ago. Of course FON should (must?) do that!

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PanMan on July 7, 2006  · 

I like the idea, but I have one major hurdle: Does this take extra energy? Do the processors in Fon routers use less energy when running idle, compared to being busy crunching numbers at full speed?
If so, it’s not ‘free’ computing power, but at the expenses of the electricity bills of all the people running Fon. There are calculations that the big distributed programs like Seti and RCx cracking take tens of Megawatts extra, all over the world, and so poluting the planet (which is kind of ironic with the climate prediction programs!)
Also then I think it won’t be a verry efficient way of computing, since Fon routers won’t have that much power to spare.
If, however, the router takes a certain amount of energy regardless of the processes being run, then I totally agree: it’s much better to do something usefull, than to waste that energy on just heating my utility cupboard.

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Torsten on July 7, 2006  · 

Bad idea. This costs enercy, the CPU gets hot, the router has a decreased lifetime. CPU power is not free, distributed computing does cause more harm than good.

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martinvives on July 7, 2006  · 

This is one program I heard of and I think its one of the most important:

For this project to be useful you need some minimum RAM/CPU requirements. I don’t think a Router would provide enough of that in order to be worth using it taking into account its lose of reliability. Anyway, consult an expert as well.

#3: I disagree on the fact that does more bad than good. Maybe is not worth to leave your computer on ONLY to have it connected. But if you must have it online (download/server…) then I think it’s definetly worth it. And computers run *OLD* before they brake most of the times.

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Thomas on July 7, 2006  · 

This would be the extremely useful, specially coming from a for-profit company. It would make FON a very special company. As for the power consumption and reliability, those should not be a factor: routers don’t go idle like cell phones, so the power difference would be quite small, if any, and the CPU is always working. Since a router uses typically only a very low 5 watts anyway, I’d not mind leaving several of them on doing this, if they made this contribution to society! Very, very neat and useful concept.

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Alfredo on July 7, 2006  · 

YES! My dumb litle router is on 24h every day doing nothing useful. This is fantastic utilisation. Can I suggest that you do children diseases? Will it run on Linksys? Go FON!

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PanMan on July 7, 2006  · 

Maybe it only takes a few watt’s, but it’s also only a small computer. You’ll have to look at the bigger picture: 1.000.000 times 5 watt’s is 5Megawatts, worldwide. That is not a small number, but a significant amount of pollution.

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Mike on July 7, 2006  · 

Martin, you know why this is so great and will work? It requires no software installation by the user on his/her PC. It will just work!

#7 PanMan: The 1M FON routers will exist already, so if FON is successful, those 5Mwatts will be there anyway. The actual increase in consumption in the router whether an application runs or not is near zero. As someone said, routers don’t go idle. If the code is run on RAM, there will be no reliability issues either. This is near perfect. This is the differentiation that would make me buy FON routers instead of the usual crap, whether I make money with my hotspot or not. What we can do with this is great IMO.

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Raul on July 8, 2006  · 

Hello. I am the author of the suggestion. Thank you for the very useful comments. In particular, thanks to MartinVives for the great link.

The point with the idea is to help humanity. Having a software agent capable of running in millions of units – without the user installing anything and without leaving PCs on – has tremendous potential. We have the potential to do a lot of good here.

On the potential negative effects, a disclosure, I have expertise and a PhD in low power consumption. The commenters are correct that routers do not usually have an idle mode (except for the solar-powered version that will hopefully come up).
Whether a little software agent runs or not, there should be no significant power increase on the router itself. In fact, routers are more power-efficient that PCs, they have no big fancy RAMs, no spinning disks, no fans, no monitors, etc. If the software agent is designed correctly it can actually reduce the router’s power consumption. Power is a function of switching activity, voltage and capacitances, most of which we can control via software in modern electronics. By choosing the correct algorithms or by storing data in RAM rather than flash, which as a commenter correctly pointed out, improves router’s reliability and reduces power. The biggest point of failure in a router is typically the flash, which is the component with most limited life-time. The flash will not be used with these software agents.

With regards to the 1M routers FON will eventually sell, that is indeed roughly 5M Watts of power by itself (with or without agent). However, some of those routers are just replacing others, and FON’s should be more power-efficient that what they are replacing, so we may still be better off. The Linksys we have use ~ 7.5 Watts, the FONera will most likely consume less.

Where there is a potential power consumption increase is on the bits and bytes that travel on the Internet, due to the nature of grid or distributed computing, but estimating this would a thesis topic, and a very interesting one. If there are any student takers out there let me know. However, to do this computation centrally as opposed to distributedly, imagine the cooling and physical requirements that’d be needed by a 100,000 Ghz computer. That by itself would consume a lot of power.

Again, many thanks.

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Raul on July 10, 2006  · 

For those interested: IEEE Spectrum has an article on the subject this month:

“With an eye on this market, all the major computer vendors, including Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, and Sun, now offer hardware and software that enable servers, PCs, and mainframes to tap into the power of a grid”.

Figure 1 on that article ( shows that this project currently uses 19,000 CPUs in Europe, 1,500 in NA. One of the jobs is to narrow down the drug agains H5N1 (avian flu). CERN is doing it in Europe, in the US there is the Open Science grid, it’s the Japan National Research grid, and so on.

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Torsten on July 11, 2006  · 


The 1M FON routers will exist already, so if FON is successful, those 5Mwatts will be there anyway.

No. A router needs power 24/7 – that is right. But it needs more power when the CPU is busy. It is far more efficient to do the work on specialized computers.

The needed CPU power has side effects that affect the product lifetime.

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