cluster using handhelds

Jim Lux James.P.Lux at
Wed Sep 10 18:29:36 EDT 2003

At 04:48 PM 9/10/2003 -0500, you wrote:

>On Wed, 10 Sep 2003, Jim Lux wrote:
> > Has anyone tried building a cluster using handheld computers (i.e. iPaq or
> > Palm type) that use wireless LAN (802.11) or IR for the interconnect?  Is
> > there an implementation of MPI that will work in that environment (WinCE,
> > PalmOS) (perhaps MPICH in some form?)
> >
> > Yes, I know the performance will be hideous.
>Ok, I can not help but to comment.
>Once upon a time, just for S&G's, we spec'ed out a T-FLOP cluster out of
>PalmPilots. Assuming no space for wiring, we figgured we could fit
>about 144 of my Palms into a cubic foot.
>Crammed floor to ceiling, had our building had 1,500 stories, it would
>have almost held the thing.
>Sorry for my silliness, but i still find it funny.

You may laugh, but consider a structure that looks like a floppy ball some 
100 meters in radius with sensing elements scattered every 10-20 cm across 
the surface, each with it's own processor that needs to talk to some (but 
not all) of the other elements to make the measurements.  Perhaps not 
TFLOPS, but a huge pile of small processors, nonetheless.

Now consider that before anybody would give you the tens of millions of 
dollars required to actually build such a thing, they'd want to see some 
sort of credible demonstration that it's feasible to do the work with 
processors of limited capability, but, yet, still general purpose and 

Further, one probably doesn't want to spend a huge amount of time designing 
processor nodes, but wants to buy something off the shelf, preferably 
consumer mass market. One would also prefer something where the internal 
architecture is published and understandable so that one could make 
credible estimates of what that fancy custom element is going to need.

Hence the question about clusters of handhelds:
handhelds are consumer mass market and cheap
linux on a handheld is "open and visible" as far as internals go
WinCE might be (depending on licensing, etc.  It's been a long time since I 
was an "embedded windows" (forerunner to WinCE) developer)
802.11 is a wireless comm scheme with known properties.  The eventual 
system would probably use something else (Snaggletooth, Forkbeard 
(Bluetooth's son), Zigbee (802.15.4), CCSDS proximity link, or whatever)
MPI because I'm lazy, and I already know how to use MPI for stuff.

By the way, handhelds that can talk to a cmos/ccd camera and grab frames on 
demand would be even better.

>Rocky McGaugh
>Atipa Technologies
>rocky at
>rmcgaugh at
>1-785-841-9513 x3110
>perl -e 'print unpack(u, ".=W=W+F%T:7\!A+F-O;0H`");'

James Lux, P.E.
Spacecraft Telecommunications Section
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mail Stop 161-213
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena CA 91109
tel: (818)354-2075
fax: (818)393-6875

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