LAS VEGAS - During CES Unveiled on Monday night, I spoke to the folks at Qarnot Computing, This very interesting French company French company was showing Q.RAD, a computer built into a wall-mounted radiator that you can use to heat your home, and they'll pay for the electricity that does it.
Here's how it works. Qarnot sells time on your Q.RAD to banks, animation houses that need rendering farms, and anyone else that might normally turn to a data center for high-end computing. On the other end of the business, Qarnot sells you, the consumer, the Q.RAD for €3,500 (US$3,761). Qarnot then uses your Q.RAD, along with hundreds of other Q.RADs, to perform those processing tasks bought by the banks and other users.
In other words, the processing is distributed out to the remote Q.RADs spread throughout the land, and it's done similarly to the way SETI@home works. Each task is broken into multiple parts, encrypted, sent out to the Q.RADs where the numbers are crunched (still encrypted), and reassembled by Qarnot.
The reason why this is so cool is that Qarnot is turning what would otherwise be a waste-product—heat—that has to be dealt with into a useful asset that heats your home. No data center building, no air conditioning to keep it cool, no security guards or janitorial services, and that adds up to a much smaller environmental footprint.
On the consumer side, Qarnot will cover the electricity used by the Q.RAD in your home. Over the course of maybe 15-20 years, you've covered the cost of the Q.RAD and heated your home for free. Everybody wins.
In addition, the Q.RAD owner has total control over the device. You set the temperature, and Qarnot sends exactly the right amount of work to hit that temperature. Want it toasty? Crank it up. Like it chilly? Turn it down. Want it off? Turn it off. During the summer, there's a low-power mode that puts off as much heat as a laptop, or you can just turn it off. That leaves you in control.
Qarnot will upgrade the computing hardware at the company's expense. At CES Unveiled, I was told that would happen every couple of years. On the company's website, it says every 3-5 years. The Q.RAD owner has no access to the computer or the work it is doing, and the device requires ethernet access to your Internet connection.
Each Q.RAD will heat a space of up to 20 cubic meters, and it's the equivalent of a 500 watt heater. Q.RAD has a built-in electricity monitor that measures exactly how much the device is using. The company then reimburses the owner for the electricity used based on that monitoring.
These are still early days for this concept. Qarnot currently has 350 Q.RADs deployed throughout Paris, and the company just secured a deal to sell another 360 units. As of now, it's only available in Europe, and the company is selling more to leasing companies and other commercial firms.
During my meeting, however, company reps told me they hope to bring the cost of the Q.RAD down as the system scales, and they would like to sell directly to consumers.
Which brings up the question of spending $3,761 on a room heater (admittedly a large room, but you know what I mean). That might sound like a lot, but show me another heater that will pay for itself over any amount of time, let alone 15-20 years. If production costs decrease, the math becomes easier, too.
I've long thought that distributed processing will play a larger role in the future, and Qarnot is taking us a significant step farther in that direction.