UK startup Yuzoz has announced it will be launching its beta service in the next two weeks — an online random number generator (RNG) 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 only use a single source — the solar wind — to deliver a selection of numbers, the full service, due at the end of January 2007, will have many more options, including the ability to give the site a list of choices and have it pick one.
"We're branding randomness, and using the power of space as a marketing tool," Yuzoz chief executive Jeffrey Manber told ZDNet UK.
"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 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 non-random 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," said Manber. From Q2 2007, the user will be able to choose which source they want, the company claims.
For individual users, the service will be free. Yuzoz' business model includes selling randomness to online gaming companies, who 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 the lure of 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. 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."
The idea of using environmental or quantum noise for random numbers is not new. Commercial and military RNGs typically use one or more semiconductor devices configured to generate high levels of noise from internal quantum events.
Among online sources, LavaRnd is a development of Lavarand, an SGI project that originally used the shapes made by six lava lamps; LavaRnd itself has simplified that by analysing the noise from a single CCD detector kept in darkness. Hotbits uses radioactive decay, while random.org has a radio tuned to an unused frequency. All employ cryptographically sound methods to turn the noise into usable, reliable data.