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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Super computer could link systems through Internet

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 14 - December 5, 1996

Peter Athanas and Ray Bittner of Virginia Tech's Department of Electrical and Computing Engineering have developed a "super computer" capable of processing complex data in real time (as it is being received). The prototype computer is faster and less expensive than today's super computers.

High-performance computers are used to process huge quantities of complex data, such as radar and medical images; however, high-end computers must call upon a variety of expensive custom signal-processing chips that are tailored for each different type of data source. Athanas and Bittner have developed a computer platform that uses Wormhole Run-time Reconfiguration (RTR) to process this data. As the data enters the computer, the needed resources and pathways are allocated to accommodate each processing situation.

Programming-information "packets" are ordered and placed at the front of each stream of data to be processed. The programming information allows the stream to steer itself through the system and interact with other data streams to perform computational functions.

"Because each stream contains its own routing information, streams can simultaneously wind their way through the system in a truly distributed fashion," Bittner said. "In contrast to present systems, the streams in a Wormhole RTR system navigate themselves with no need for centralized control intervention."

The first task for the new super computer will be to receive and process data transmitted by cellular telephones. "It provides high-computational density with low power, which is good for wireless applications," Athanas said.

"The really spectacular uses of Wormhole RTR are it's applications to the near future when it can be used to create huge computational engines through the Internet; harnessing and linking the power of distant and diverse computing systems to solve large problems," Bittner said.

A patent is pending on the new computer.