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Start-up generates random numbers from space

Jeffrey Manber explains technology behind Yuzoz, whose name itself was generated using cosmic events such as solar wind.

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,

HotBits, meanwhile, uses radioactive decay, and 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.