How IoT and Blockchain Tech Can Rule a World of Physical Things

March 16, 2018

Can blockchains set and keep rules for objects in the physical world, as well as digital assets? And if so, how? The first international IoT Blockchain Camp in Valencia, Spain, is a five-day event that looks at potential answers to this question — and explores some of the internet-of-things technology that’ll make it work.

The Future: Smart Cities, Blockchains, Robots, Smart Contracts and Oracles

Over 70 participants will join IoT Blockchain Camp, which runs from April 11-15th. It will look at five key topics: smart cities, Energy, Tourism, Transport, and Health/Sport. Technologies covered include robotics, A.I. and machine learning, (AIML), embedded systems, smart contracts and oracles, data acquisition and off-chain systems. It will also look at the pros and cons of “permissionless” (i.e. open) and “permissioned” (i.e. private/closed) blockchains.

As well as several technical seminars to explain the technology and how it should work, there will also be a 48-hour non-stop hackathon where attendees can apply their skills to real problems. This sub-event follows the IoT+Blockchain International Hackathon in Frankfurt last August, organized by the same group.

Its organizers believe that blockchain is about much more than buying and selling tokens. Blockchain, they said, will transform our lives for the better — and the way to do this is to connect blockchain to the real world.

Why Is IoT and Blockchain Tech a Match?

“Code is law” wrote Lawrence Lessig in the 1990s, referring to the internet’s freedom from human frailties in following its own rules. As long as internet content followed the rules programmed into its software, humans could not corrupt or break them. More recently, Lessig’s maxim has been applied to cryptocurrencies — they represent payment networks and monetary policy defined in distributed code, not by financial institutions or governments with incentives to act in their own, and not the public, interest.

And if blockchains can add transparency and reduce corruption for the crypto tokens transacted on them, they can do the same for physical assets too, right? Food safety and art provenance, logistics and anti-counterfeiting, real estate registries, for example.

Wait a second, though — once you break that connection between blockchain and the asset they govern, there’s a weakness. An immutable blockchain record might say the diamond on your ring or fish on your plate were ethically sourced, but can you cryptographically prove it? How do you know it’s the same object?

These are some of the key problems IoT Blockchain Camp wants to examine, and hopefully solve.

What Technologies Can Make Blockchains Work in the Physical World?

The camp’s IoT theme will look at ways blockchain-based solutions can work in the physical world — robotics and embedded systems being two examples.

That said, a large portion of the development work is on the back-end to make all that possible. Someone needs to create the smart contracts and trusted oracles to adjudicate them; develop the machine learning techniques; and decide when it’s better to work on- of off-chain.

Interview: Enrique Melero on Why Blockchain IoT Is More Interesting Than Finance

Bitsonline spoke to Enrique Melero, a Switzerland-based blockchain consultant with a background in private banking, who’s one of the people behind the IoT Blockchain Camp and hackathon. He explained to us his interest in blockchain technology, and why IoT is the focus for these events, rather than financial solutions.

JS: Why did you choose to focus on IOT for the camp/hackathon?

EM: I believe the blockchain technology is not only cryptocurrencies and payments. When we use IoT to combine the blockchain with the real world we focus on other dimensions of the technology: a public and decentralized registry of any kind of events, an unforgeable, autonomous and unstoppable machine. In fact I see it like this: Those things that are connected to the internet could not deploy all their potential because they could not interact directly with their users. The blockchain adds those “Things” to the financial system, because they can use the blockchain to receive and make payments without a need of a finance department and a bank account.

JS: Your background is in finance — is that still the most interesting application for blockchain tech? Or is the focus changing?

EM: The blockchain has made current finance industry obsolete, but the business cases still remain: payments and wealth management. The blockchain brings new opportunities to increase efficiency of financial processes, to a point that new actors will emerge to compete with the current established financial institutions and banks. That is interesting, but not so innovative. The really interesting cases in my opinion, are in applications outside of finance, those that resolve problems that were not addressed before and will create completely new business models not seen before.

JS: You’re based in Switzerland. Do you recommend it as a place for entrepreneurs to establish a blockchain or cryptocurrency startup? Why?

EM: Switzerland, together with Estonia and perhaps Singapore, has been a leader in crypto regulation since very early. But it is not only the regulators, it is as well the rest of the ecosystem which contributes: lawyers, tax advisors, workforce, even education, (have) come along. Blockchain is as well a natural fit for a country where respect for privacy has been paramount for their success for many years.

Other than that, Switzerland is probably the best place in Europe to fund a startup of any kind, not only blockchain companies. It has a very well developed tradition supporting innovation, a solid legal system and a flexible and skilled labour market.

JS: What industry has the most potential for IoT blockchain apps? (I’m thinking shipping, food safety, etc.)

EM: You are spot on. I think the biggest potential is in the industries where quality management and traceability are key skills to compete: logistics, energy, food and pharma. We had a great response from people coming from those industries. They understand they need to learn and play with the technology to discover how they can best use it to their advantage.

Other sectors that should start considering the use of IoT and Blockchain is that sector that is in charge of looking after public goods and public utilities: water, environment, roads, patrimony, public safety etc. I am obviously talking about the public sector which is still the largest sector in most of the modern economies.

Does the thought of blockchain combined with IoT technology excite you? Tell us why or why not, in the comments.

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