Video cards learn to save lives at the GPU Technology Conference

nvidia geforce gtx 1050 ti performance 3dmark 11 gpu z booth sign building headquarters
What has your graphics card done for you lately? Maybe playing The Division with your pals? Possibly pumping video into a VR headset? That’s great and all, but Nvidia is promoting some more life-saving GPU uses, from preventing heart attacks, to helping people escape from burning buildings, and even tracking endangered species.

Heart attacks

The researchers at George Mason don’t mince words when it comes to their project. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the developed world.” But the human heart is a massively complex piece of biological machinery, and simulating all the moving pieces and variables is a stress even on high-end CPUs.

At the core focus of the study is fatal arrhythmia, or an irregular beating of the heart due to a problem with the hearth’s electrical system. This is generally caused by a calcium imbalance, but problems start to arise with the sheer number of these calcium channels to keep track of. “In a single heart muscle cell there are over 1,000,000 of these calcium channels. In the heart, there are 2-3 billion of these cells.”

The algorithm, when run on a GPU, finally makes it possible to model the heart accurately.

In order to handle the large amount of data, the team created a new version of the Monte Carlo machine learning algorithm, aptly named Ultrafast Monte Carlo. It was designed to reduce the number of calculations necessary in a standard comparison. Specifically, it allows the researchers to multiply two matrices together without having to multiply each value individually. This algorithm, when run on a GPU, finally makes it possible to model the heart accurately.

Smoke propagation

But not everyone dies of a heart attack, and that’s where researchers from Jülich Forschungszentrum, a German research institute, come in. They’re working on a project that will use GPUs to manage fires and smoke in underground stations.

According to the researchers, “Equipment for smoke extraction is rare in underground stations worldwide,” but the solution isn’t as simple as installing a fan. There are lots of factors involved in the careful evacuation of smoke, and the close relationship of oxygen and fire means carefully measuring the risk in real time. GPUs are perfectly suited for imagining three-dimensional spaces and running through scenarios in fast order, and time is of the essence in a fire-fighting situation.

The focus in this project is on filtering smoke out of complex underground facilities, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It will also help emergency services identify fire risk and possible routes in real-time, and dynamically change escape routes for people stuck in the underground facilities. The memory and performance requirements mean a lightweight GPU could do the work of a more expensive CPU, making it easy to install in a fire engine or underground facility.

Endangered species

It isn’t all about humans, and preserving the endangered species of our Earth is an important topic as well. In that pursuit, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration started a contest to build a facial recognition engine for Right Whales. Researchers from took the data, 4,544 images of these whales, of which there are less than 500 left in the World, and created such a system.

Unfortunately, facial recognition for whales isn’t as simple as picking out eye position or dimples, and to make things harder, the images weren’t all from the same direction, or focused and framed perfectly.


First, the researchers set about identifying the whales’ heads and rotating and scaling them to create “passport photos” of each. Once those photos were correctly aligned, they used the callouses on the backs of their heads to identify the whales.


It’s not as immediately life-saving as the other efforts, but it shows the versatility of the GPU in more than just gaming. But why are GPUs so good at these tasks?

Why GPUs?

So what makes a GPU so much more relevant for these sorts of tasks, exactly? A lot of it has to do with the structure of the processor itself. Traditional CPUs are great for handling one task, or one set of data, or pretending to handle more with multiple cores. GPUs, on the other hand, have CUDA cores (or Stream Processors in AMD GPUs) that number into the thousands, over 3,000 in the workstation Quadro M6000. That means they’re much better at handling many operations all at once.

It also means it’s easier to leverage a GPU for tasks that involve visualization and calculation when there are hundreds of thousands of factors. That means the inside of a heart, where it can keep track of billions of cells, or a subway station quickly filling with smoke. It’s much easier, and importantly, much faster, for a thousand cores to attack the problem at the same time.

How much faster? According to the heart study, the Ultrafast Monte Carlo algorithm takes 20 minutes to run on a CPU, but just 45 seconds on a GPU. That doesn’t just save time, it also means a drastic reduction in required resources, technological overhead, and run-time costs. Don’t you think that’s just as important as maxing out your framerate in Counter-Strike?


If we get a Nintendo 64 Classic, it needs to have these games

The Nintendo 64 introduced a long list of top-tier games, but which were the iconic platform's best? From Mario Party to Ocarina of Time to NFL Blitz, check out our picks for the best N64 games.

These are the classic NES games that helped redefine gaming

The NES left an indelible mark on pop culture and revolutionized the gaming industry. Check out our picks for the best NES games, whether you prefer an immersive RPG, side-scrolling brawler, or something else entirely.

Still have holiday cash to blow? Grab one of these awesome Xbox One games

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.

Dive headfirst into the best experiences available now on the Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift brought back virtual reality and put a modern twist to it. Grab your Touch Controllers, put on your VR headset, and jump into the fun with some of the best Oculus Rift games available now.

Go hands-free in Windows 10 with speech-to-text support

Looking for the dictation, speech-to-text, and voice control options in Windows 10? Here's how to set up Speech Recognition in Windows 10 and use it to go hands-free in a variety of different tasks and applications within Windows.

Printing to PDF in Windows is easy, no matter which method you use

Microsoft's latest operating system makes it easier than ever to print to PDF in Windows, but there are alternative methods for doing so, even if you want to forgo Adobe Acrobat. Here's how.

Changing a PDF into an EPUB file is easier than you might think

If you like to read on a tablet or ebook reader, you'll find that ePUB files offer a number of advantages over PDFs. With this guide, we'll show you how to convert a PDF to EPUB in a few quick steps.

Need to combine a PDF? Here's how to get it done on both Windows and Mac

Sometimes juggling multiple files at once is more of a hassle than a convenience, especially when a single file would do. This quick guide will teach you how to combine PDF files on Windows, MacOS, or with online tools.

Don’t even bother with the rest. Here are the only laptop brands that matter

If you want to buy your next laptop based around a specific brand, it helps to know which the best brands of laptops are. This list will give you a good grounding in the most reliable, quality laptop manufacturers today.

Secure your Excel documents with a password by following these quick steps

Excel documents are used by people and businesses all over the world. Given how often they contain sensitive information, it makes sense to keep them from the wrong eyes. Thankfully, it's easy to secure them with a password.

Style up your MacBook Air with one of these great cases or sleeves

Whether you’re looking for added protection or a stylish flourish, you’re in the right place for the best MacBook Air cases. We have form-hugging cases, luxurious covers and padded sleeves priced from $10 to $130. Happy shopping!

Getting Windows 10 updated doesn't have to be so painful

Windows update not working? It's a more common problem than you might think. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to troubleshoot it and in this guide we'll break them down for you step by step.

Reluctant to give your email address away? Here's how to make a disposable one

Want to sign up for a service without the risk of flooding your inbox with copious amounts of spam and unwanted email? You might want to consider using disposable email addresses via one of these handy services.

Beam up the videos: AirPlay support is coming to VLC player

At CES 2019, the developers of VLC player announced they are adding support for Apple's Airplay feature, allowing consumers to beam video and other content from their iPhone and Android devices to an Apple TV.