December 12, 2006 7:40 AM PST

Start-up generates random numbers from space

British start-up Yuzoz has announced that it will be launching its beta service in the next two weeks--an online random-number generator driven by astronomical events.

Working with data from satellites and observatories, Yuzoz will use the solar wind, the clouds of Venus, the Northern Lights, Jupiter's shortwave emissions and other cosmic events to generate 200 choices per second.

While the beta service will use only a single source--the solar wind--to deliver a selection of numbers, the full service, due at the end of January, will have many more options, including the ability to give the site a list of choices and have it pick one.

Jeffrey Manber Jeffrey Manber

"We're saying, here's your connection with space. You can think of lots of things to do with these numbers, and here's the platform," Yuzoz Chief Executive Jeffrey Manber told ZDNet UK. "We're branding randomness and using the power of space as a marketing tool."

"We spent two years on development, branding and patenting," said Manber, who used to run the business side of the Mir space station. "Yuzoz was a random name--we used our product to create our name. We turned the system on New Year's Day, gave it some rules and created 6,000 names. Seven or eight names jumped out as being cool. Six already had the domains registered, but Yuzoz was unique."

The technical side has been tested by TST Laboratories, an independent Canadian consultancy, and has various techniques for ensuring randomness even though the raw data from the space sensors may contain nonrandom information. However, some of the information used to generate the random numbers will always originate from space.

"We want to be able to say that the data is from space, untouched by us. So we pull out random bits of live space data, which also solves the problem of tampering," Manber said. Starting in the second quarter of 2007, the user will be able to choose the source of the data, the company claims.

For individual users, the service will be free. Yuzoz' business model includes selling randomness to online-game companies, which could flag the Yuzoz brand as a way of attracting players. Although there are plenty of alternative ways of generating genuinely random numbers, Manber hopes that a cosmic connection will be a unique attraction. "It's like bottled water versus tap water," he said.

In the future, Manber says, the company hopes to do deals with observatories so that users will be able to fine-tune their source of random data down to individual constellations. "We want to put fun back into numbers. Everyone's bound by their train times, their mobile phones."

The idea of using environmental or quantum noise for random numbers is not new. Commercial and military random-number generators typically use at least one semiconductor device configured to generate high levels of noise from internal quantum events.

Among online sources, LavaRnd is a spin-off of Lavarand, a Silicon Graphics Inc. project that originally used the shapes made by six lava lamps; LavaRnd itself has simplified that by analyzing the noise from a single CCD detector kept in darkness.

HotBits, meanwhile, uses radioactive decay, and Random.org has a radio tuned to an unused frequency. All employ cryptographically sound methods to turn the noise into usable, reliable data.

Rupert Goodwins of ZDNet UK reported from London.

See more CNET content tagged:
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6 comments

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Why?
Perhaps I am ignorant of something, but I really dont understand why this service would be useful to individual users? Why do I need to fill my life with random numbers from space "for fun"? Maybe it's just me, but I believe I was given the ability to make up random numbers on my own.
Posted by rvanas78 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Does it take a long time?
Doesn't it take a long time to go all the way to space to get a random number?

I think I'll stick to the one generated by the milliseconds on my system time. I know it's only pseudo-random, but it has the advantage of taking less than a millisecond to come back, which, I believe is crucial for these games they're discussing, which may do many random number calls per second.
Posted by paulreid99 (74 comments )
Link Flag
Why randomness is useful
It is often used in encryption. The more random the numbers are, the more secure the encryption is. This would be one way of using an external source to help ensure that your encryption was good for instance for doing online banking.

As PC's get faster, it takes less time to crack encryption. Having a seed number that is very hard to guess helps.
Posted by amadensor (248 comments )
Link Flag
Here's Why.
For many mathematical and statistical purposes, you want purely random generated numbers - meaning numbers without any sort of repeated pattern. This allows you to trigger events at non-predictable intervals, like the random chance that you'll find a treasure or encounter a monster or hit or miss in a video game. However, there are an infinite number of easy ways to achieve random sequences that are free or very cheap so it's an interesting model to charge people for numbers generated by non-sensical events.
Posted by Robbo75 (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They Should...
...combine their technology with a random number generator that uses the sound frequencies of farts...

Gives a (w)hole new meaning to the phrase "solar wind"!

And if anybody ever cracks it, they could be said to have broken wind!

:)
Posted by J_Satch (571 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Prime numbetrs from space!
I want a system that will generate very large prime numbers from space. The only question I have is, "Will the aliens be able to spoof the solar wind and give me a key they know?" :)
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
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