MIT students power supercomputer with bicycles

School claims it was largest human-power computation in history

A team of ten MIT students powered a supercomputer for twenty minutes by pedalling bicycles. They duly claimed the world record for human-powered computing (HPC).

They powered a SiCortex SC648 supercomputer with a Linux cluster of 648 CPUs and almost 1TB of main memory in a single cabinet. The system is low-powered and draws 1,200 watts without needing special power supplies or cooling.

An SC648 chip, with six processors on it, draws around 8 watts of power, which compares to a typical notebook computer CPU needing 100 watts, according to SiCortex CEO John Mucci. Other supercomputers draw tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of watts.

The ten cyclists pedalled their bikes, set on stands, with the wheels driving dynamos to generate direct current power which was converted into the alternating current needed. The supercomputer modelled a nuclear fusion reaction.

A spokesperson said that the human-powered session produced more computations than took place in the first 3,000 years of civilization. He also said that more arithmetic calculations were computed than were done on the entire earth up to 1960.

The MIT team was highlighting the need for sustainable energy supplies, competing for a Google prize and also for an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. Google and a bike company have sponsored an Innovate or Die contest with contestants having to use bike power and post a video of their submission on YouTube to win US$5,000 for the team and a Specialized bike for each member. Five members pedalled for the Google prize and a ten-member team pedalled for the Guinness Book of Records entry.

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Chris Mellor

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