The plan is to allow home users to participate in scientific research by donating the computing power of their PS3 to Stanford University's folding proteins research. The process is called distributed computing, and has been used by other organizations with PCs, such as the SETI program (which is searching for extraterrestrial life).
For the sake of accuracy, I have provided the entire text of the Folding@home announcement press release below.
The following is a press release from Sony Computer Entertainment America "TOKYO and FOSTER CITY, Calif., March 15 -- Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SCEI) today announced that PLAYSTATION(R)3 (PS3(TM)) computer entertainment systems will have the capability to connect to Stanford University's Folding@home program, a distributed computing project aimed at understanding protein folding, misfolding and related diseases.
Folding@home is leveraging PS3's powerful Cell Broadband Engine(TM) (Cell/B.E.) -- and what will be an even more powerful distributed supercomputing network of PS3 systems -- to help study the causes of diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cystic fibrosis and many cancers.
Because the process of folding proteins is so complex, computers are used to perform simulations to study the process. Since these simulations can take up to 30 years for a single computer to complete, Folding@home enables this task to be shared among thousands of computers connected via the network, utilizing distributed computing technology. Once the data is processed, the information is sent back via the Internet to the central computer.
The Cell/B.E. processor inside each PS3 is roughly 10 times faster than a standard mainstream chip inside a personal computer (PC), so researchers are able to perform the simulations much faster, speeding up the research process.
"Millions of users have experienced the power of PS3 entertainment. Now they can utilize that exceptional computing power to help fight diseases," said Masayuki Chatani, Corporate Executive and CTO Computer, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. "In order to study protein folding, researchers need more than just one super computer, but the massive processing power of thousands of networked computers. Previously, PCs have been the only option for scientists, but now, they have a new, more powerful tool -- PS3."
"We're thrilled to have SCE be part of the Folding@home project," said Vijay Pande, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University and Folding@home project lead. "With PS3 now part of our network, we will be able to address questions previously considered impossible to tackle computationally, with the goal of finding cures to some of the world's most life-threatening diseases."
With the latest system software update expected to become available at the end of March, the Folding@home icon will be added to the Network menu of the XMB(TM) (XrossMediaBar). PS3 users can join the program by simply clicking on the Folding@home icon or can optionally set the application to run automatically whenever PS3 is idle (*1).
Starting with Folding@home, SCE will continue to support distributed computing projects in a wide variety of academic fields such as medical and social sciences and environmental studies throughout the use of PS3 and hopes to contribute to the advancement of science.
(*1) To run the application automatically in idle state, PS3 must be connected to the network with both the main power switch and power button turned on. Option setting must also be changed as this automatic feature is off at default. About Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. continues to redefine the entertainment lifestyle with its PlayStation(R) and PS one(R) game console, the PlayStation(R)2 computer entertainment system, the PSP(R) (PlayStation(R)Portable) system, and the ground-breaking PLAYSTATION(R)3 (PS3(TM)) computer entertainment system."