Comment »Posted on Friday 24 April 2009 at 5:14 pm by Jacob Aron
In Climate Change & Environment, Inventions & Technology, Yes, But When?

Talking in your sleep can be an annoying habit for anyone you share a bed with, but applying the same principle to computers could help combat climate change. ‘Sleep talking’ PCs are a new development from the University of California, San Diego and Microsoft Research that allow the computer to continue communicating on a network whilst in power-saving ‘sleep’ mode.

Computer science Ph.D. student Yuvraj Agarwal was lead author of a paper outlining the new technique, dubbed ‘Somniloquy’ – Latin for ‘sleep talking’. He says that people are leaving their PCs switched on even when they are not doing very much, simply because they want to remain online:

“Large numbers of people keep their PCs in awake mode even though the PCs are relatively idle for long blocks of time because they want to stay connected to an internal network or the Internet or both,

“I realized that most of the tasks that people keep their computers on for can be achieved at much lower power-use levels than regular awake mode.”

I know I’m guilty of going out for the day and leaving my PC on just to download a few files, and it turns out that I’m not alone. Previous research has shown that the average home PC is on 34% of the time, but only in use for half that.

Somniloquy works by plugging a piece of USB hardware into your PC that can communicate with other computers in the network. Low-intensity tasks can be performed whilst the PC is asleep, and if a bit more computational oomph is required Somniloquy will wake the PC up.

The current prototypes will work with any type of computer or network, and consumes anything from 11 to 24 times less power than a switched on, but idle, PC. This could mean a reduction of power consumption by 60 to 80% – quite a significant saving.

I’m a big champion of small, unglamorous ideas that can be rolled out on a large scale to lower energy usage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Somniloquy looks to be a great idea in this vein, and I look forward to installing it on my own PC.

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