Featured: Project MegaDroid; 300,000 Androids In A Small Room!

October 7, 2012 - Written By Faiz Ahmed Faiz

If you enter the data centre at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, California, which designed atomic weapons if you remember, you may feel like entering a low-cost computer selling shop and yes, indeed you are mistaken. For, here is going on an experiment which can change the way we utilize the smartphones, in the near future. Using a cluster of 500 desktop computers the researchers are trying and have partially succeeded in emulating as many as 300,000 Android phones together in real life scenario. This ambitious yet achievable project is known as MegaDroid, obviously a fusion of the popular mobile OS and the volume of the project.

The computers are placed on racks and are connected by Ethernet cables. Each computer has quad-core Intel i7 processor and 12 GB RAM, no hard disk and of course gigabit connection. Generally when govt. labs deal in multi-million dollars, this set up was completed in only half a million. The placement and fastening have been done keeping in mind any possibility of natural calamities like earthquake. And a group of dedicated cybersecurity researchers is living with the computers, or so to say!

What can this conglomerate of PCs can emulate? Well, the list is unbelievably long. The network can send text messages and transmit wireless data including the behaviour of the phone’s radios or sensors. There is a visualization tool used in this project (and displayed on a large monitor, if you are interested!), which includes fake GPS data and looks like all the Android users of a city are tracked together in real life.

But why all these arrangements? we asked John Floren who is one of those researchers working on this project. “We wanted to create something that would approximate the many, many phones in a real network” came the answer. And what gain would that cause? This software, as explained by the researchers, will be used for military planning, disaster relief and the creation of social apps and it will be available for free download upon completion.

This is not a never-before project. We remember MegaTux when in 2009, 1 million Linux kernels were booted together and 1 year later MegaWin did the same for Bill Gates. According to Sandia researcher David Fritz, they would like to help Apple to run some kind of Mega-iOS too but Apple needs to take the first initiative.

The future of web is mobile, lets not deny this. To add sugar to this already sweet sorbet, the wireless devices are less vulnerable to malware than the present standard of desktop devices. But we should not forget that this project is more difficult than MegaTux and MegaWin due to the fact that modern wireless networks contain thousands of always-moving smartphones and to add to the complexity, each device emitting more than 1 signal. To accommodate all these in the simulation was a real big challenge.

Network resilience (veterans might remember the 1988 incident of “Killroy was here”) and privacy issue are two areas where the researchers have taken extreme care as, according to the team, “they are aware of the consequences” but nothing can undermine the success they will achieve if the projects finishes successfully.

This Megadroid project and its resulting data are kept unclassified means for the first time general developers and researchers can access these data and learn more about “attack vectors” to develop better protection. The dilemma which bugged me is, the black hat hackers can also access these data and improve the attack tactics, isn’t it?

Be it rescue teams working on the aftermath of an earthquake and want to sync their activities for a greater cumulative effort or any govt agency getting a forecast of any possible terror attack (interestingly enough, this has been approached very simply in Megadroid project and to me, it sounds credible), Megadroid is going to dictate terms in a future where our lives will almost completely be dependent on Smartphones we carry.

We, at Android Headlines, are joining the groups of hopefuls and expectants, wishing all success to MegaDroid. In all probability, this software will be released by the end on this year, under GPL v3. Lets move to a better, smarter and safer mobile future together.