Sony To Use PlayStation 3 Idle Time To Help Cure Disease

Software program harnesses idle time of Internet-linked home computers to perform protein-folding simulations that would take a single machine decades to complete.

Sony announced on March 15 that its PlayStation 3 video game consoles will be enhanced to join a supercomputing network researching causes of cancer, Alzheimer's and other incurable diseases. Sony said a software update that will be available by the end of March will enable users to devote their consoles' idle time to a Stanford University quest for diseases caused by "misfolded" proteins.

Such diseases include Parkinson's, mad cow, Alzheimer's, Huntington's and some forms of cancer, according to Stanford associate professor Vijay Pande, leader of the "[email protected]" project. PlayStation 3 console software will let users click on a "[email protected]" icon on their television screens to have their machines devote their computing power to medical research whenever games aren't being played. The program harnesses idle time of Internet-linked home computers to use the combined power to perform in months protein-folding simulations that would take a single machine decades to complete.

Processors in PlayStation 3 computers are approximately 10 times faster than chips in typical personal computers so adding the consoles to the "folding at home" network should boost simulation speeds, Sony said.

"Millions of users have experienced the power of PS3 entertainment; now they can utilize that exceptional computing power to help fight diseases," said Sony Computer Entertainment chief technical officer Masayuki Chatani. "PCs have been the only option for scientists, but now, they have a new, more powerful tool -- PS3."

Sony said it will make PlayStation 3 compatible with a variety of medical, social and environmental research efforts.

In perhaps the most well known distributed-computing project, researchers at the Berkeley campus of the University of California launched [email protected] in 1999 to help search for messages beamed from space. More than five million personal computers in countries around the world are combined in a network that uses excess computing power to study radio telescope signals gathered by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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