A Hackathon to Prepare for a Machine-to-Machine Future
Springboarding off the success of the first Ethereum Camp last year in Frankfurt, the 2018 Berlin edition attracted nearly 50 participants with diverse tech skills and a shared zest for building prototypes that connect Ethereum to real IoT products. Held in Berlin's Blogfabrik coworking space, Ethereum Camp 2018 delivered a preview of our decentralized future – connecting people as much as it did technology.
It was a hackathon designed to unite a wealth of blockchain and IoT expertise and deliver a fresh perspective on trust and tokenomics, explored here.
// MASHING & HASHING
While hackathons are typically zones of sleep-deprived creativity, this one was a unique mash-up of elements focused on IoT and smart contracts. The format mixed inspirational lectures, engaging workshops, access to hardware and expertise, dedicated prototype building, and an opportunity to tackle challenges posed by industry leaders.
Ethereum Camp embodies the greater ecosystem that company builder NBT operates within: developing IoT and blockchain solutions by blending skill sets and resources to solve problems that matter.
From 26-29 March 2018, tech experts enthusiastic about blockchain, IoT, and Ethereum gathered together to leverage their community and work on prototypes addressing real-world issues.
Across 4 packed days, participants gained specialized knowledge in IoT, blockchain, and business development, while connecting with like minds and forging teams to bring ideas to fruition. On the last day, teams presented their prototypes in a polished pitch format to the group along with invited guests from the Berlin community.
Ethereum Camp sponsors included Next Big Thing AG (NBT) and NBT’s IoT-blockchain venture, Weeve, who is actively empowering the Economy of Things. Weeve team members were instrumental in guiding attendees through prototype development and presentations. Along with capable organization by the Ethereum Camp, support came from the Frankfurt School of Blockchain and 21Digital, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and nexussquared.
Decentralized Has Its Benefits
Before we break down what made this specialized event tick, let’s recap what Ethereum is exactly. According to their website, it’s a ‘decentralized platform for running smart contract applications which run exactly as programmed without possibility of downtime, censorship, or fraud.”
This list of ‘avoidances’ actually reveal categories of potential problems that can arise. Part of the hackathon’s intention was to generate solutions which mitigate those risks and instead move toward speed, efficiency, data authenticity, and shared economies.
Hackathon Best Practices
Blockchain Developer Martin Mauer from Weeve, kicked off the hackathon with tips on how to approach team building and project focus. His approach?
- Build teams that compliment each other by picking people with different strengths. (Participants wore color post-its to identify the right roles as they formed teams.)
- Don’t scale too big. Do think big, but then cut that in half, and halve it again. The goal is to make achievable progress in 4 days.
- Martin recommended programming in C or Python and encouraged participants to ask questions on hardware. The teams were given Raspberry Pi (like mini Linux computers) and Ruuvio– good to develop fast with, and they used Solidity to develop smart contracts.
In keeping with the Ethereum Camp spirit of “start doing, stop talking”, Martin says emulate first; write epics (large bodies of work to be broken down using an agile/sprint development style) and above all, he says "break things" – it’s the best way to learn.
Aravinth Panchadcharam, Senior Embedded Systems Engineer from NBT, presented the "Over the Air Update: Crucial Components of IoT Products". Aravinth is motivated by an exponential growth of IoT devices but notes 2 significant problems:
- Hardware and Software security of IoT devices are not foreseen and not fixed
- Billions of these devices in the field are not updatable
- Making Over-The-Air-Update (OTA) the crucial component of IoT devices
- OpenSource OTA updating tools such as Mendor.io, ATS, Resin.io, RAUC
Hackathon Challenges: Solving for the Real-World
Sponsoring companies like Innogy and Weeve invited participants to build prototypes around specific challenges. Kerstin Eichmann from innogy Innovation Hub introduced their four focus areas (Smart & Connected, Disruptive Digital, Machine Economy and Cybersecurity) before presenting their challenges. She incorporated a discussion of the machine economy and the role of decentralized technology.
Weeve’s three thoughtful challenges reflected the awareness Weeve has for modern social and environmental pressures, namely:
1) Mobility: Given that mass adoption of ride-, bike-, & car-sharing services are giving car ownership and identity crisis, how can blockchain tech reduce vehicle emissions or improve services around this, like locating e-vehicle charging stations? How can peer-to-peers services be improved?
2) Supply Chain: Weeve considered the environment to evaluate how we can improve logistics: As we transition from an oil-based car economy to a battery-powered one, we need to consider the mining of cobalt, one of the main ingredients in batteries. What can we do to ensure this raw material has entered the supply chain ethically? How can we ensure our old vehicles are properly recycled, with materials ending back up in the supply chain?
3) Crypto Economic Mechanism Design: How do we increase trust for our devices, and build a registry of devices where owners vouch for trustworthiness with a stake? How can blockchain solve for infringement and plagiarism? How can we improve participation in elections for a more stable, democratic network. How can we combine cryptoeconomic incentive mechanisms with existing IoT protocols?
// INPUT: HEARING FROM THE ECOSYSTEM
In between time spent developing their prototypes to address these and other challenges, hackathoners got to hear from a curated selection of diverse speakers sharing insights on blockchain, data authenticity, ICOs, and tokenomics.
Here are some insights gleaned from the speakers:
XAIN: distribution x intelligence
Laurence Kirk from xain.io says “distribution compliments intelligence.” XAIN is creating an enterprise platform to enable business models with energy-efficient blockchain. He pointed out some relatable difficulties: 1) it can be tricky to find enterprise use-cases in blockchain, 2) it is hard to put key decision makers from different companies together, and 3) the public blockchain doesn’t fit well with governance and compliance.
So XAIN addresses this by combining intelligent infrastructure and organization and putting blockchain on the device level with higher security. They use a layered approach involving access and permissions.
Weeve Empowers the Economy of Things
Sebastian Gajek, Chief Scientist and co-Founder from Weeve, introduced the notion of Empowering the Economy of Things. His team’s vision is based on the concept that authentic data is valuable and economically viable. Sebastian believes we all can leverage that value to access entirely new revenue streams. He is of the mind, along with other speakers, that we are entering a machine-to-machine future, where human involvement will be reduced. But to set that up right, we need Weeve.
Weeve has designed an operating system, eponymously named weeveOS, which is designed for “security and cryptography to attest the value of data.” IoT hardware runs many processes which rely on trust in the creation of data that is exchanges. So Weeve aims to build up a trustful execution environment, creating a ‘trust chain.’ They do this by adding security to the MQTT, a standard publish/subscribe messaging transport protocol. Through Weeve’s testified smart contracts and tokenized data, people can verify how data was collected. The Weeve cryotoprotocol is crucial for implementing a machine-to-machine economy and to run a supply and demand protocol.
Ultimately, Weeve believes there should be no centralized party to charge for standard platform service. Rather, everybody should be able to create their own marketplace. In essence, the true owners of data can participate in their economy.
One of Weeve’s key features is being blockchain agnostic. They recognize the important of wisely choosing what technology one needs based on priorities– perhaps a permission-based blockchain, or for logistics, something like Hypoledger is best suited.
Weeve wants to incentivize high-quality data provision. Sebastian made 3 key points related to this prioritization:
1) Weeve has the first IoT-to-blockchain protocol.
2) People should be able to create their own marketplaces.
3) Creating a stable network de-incentivizes the urge to create fake data.
In addition to Sebastian, hackathoners learned from other Weeve team members: Venture Developer Sidd Bhasin explained the rationale behind the WEEV token, which itself symbolizes the value of the network. Blockchain Developer Marvin Kruse discussed Weeve smart contracts, and how they are making the frontend of the Weeve network easy to use.
Foam and Jolocom
Arthur Röing Baer from Foam, presented their Protocol for Proof of Location and validation for geospatial data. They offer a development platform which showcases tutorials and provides resources for developing API in smart contracts, saying “The whole API is generated and documented by the application itself.”
Kai Wagner says Jolocom focuses on personal subidentities, or DID (decentralized identities) and a concept called ‘self-sovereign’. They believe a public, permissionless ledger is the highest standard; the registry is distributed and trustworthy and they have a constantly open development process, where everything will remain open source.
Opportunities for Blockchain to Bring Trust
After giving an interesting overview of the history of trading energy- hint: it was based on crowd behavior including hand signals, Tobias Frederico of Energy Brainpool and now collaborator on NBT energy venture NRGEN, said that the new market will trade trust, not electricity. Now half of the trading desk is IT; trading happens in advance and is heavily influenced by algorithms.
The energy sector is tricky to innovate within as too much deviation or non-matching in supply and demand balance can quickly lead to a blackout. With IoT, we can measure grid frequency better, trading flexibility to cover deviation in the grid. Having flexibility will be important in a new market when, “The consumer is becoming a prosumer, and the chain becomes a circle.”
Tobias shared a great example of how a startup uses bitcoin to prepay smart meters in South Africa to help connect schools with the cloud to maintain their electricity. When determining use cases, he offered this grounding advice: “Think about your grandmother using the blockchain.” Other examples he offered: fair trade is a great use for blockchain to verify certificates, or to identify diamond trading that avoids blood diamonds.
Erik Illaraza, Chief Innovation Officer and Founder of UBIOT presented a product called ChecaMed; it’s an answer to the the “last mile problem” in pharma supply chain where for example, people in Argentina are not certain if the medicine they need to take is authentic or fake. This can be a life-threatening issue particularly in regard to cancer medications and antibiotics. But it is also where blockchain technology has the power to bring trust, a concept he discussed as a “brand’s intangible value.” They want to protect medicine via blockchain and focus of safety and price.
Tokenomics 101: What’s New Under the Sun?
Dr. Oliver Krause has 25+ years experience in innovation and transformation across many industries and geographies. He is a co-founder of Untitled INC, a think tank focusing on blockchain & DLT (distributed ledger technology) and a platform to launch ventures and initiatives like Advantum Global, a consulting firm for the distributed economy.
The guiding question for his talk was 'Blockchain & Tokens: what’s new under the sun?!’ As an intro, he gave examples of tokens and mentioned their key charecteristics: 1) tokens represent a unit of value and can be exchanged for goods. 2) Tokens incentivize people to DO THINGS.
He pointed out that the key innovation of blockchain is the fact that a digital bearer token had been created which cannot be copied. This for the first time in history enables the P2P transfer of assets on the internet without a trusted 3rd party in between. A second innovation has been the smart contract on the blockchain which gave birth to the new crowdfunding tool Initial Coin Offering. He presented data on the short history of ICOs which demonstrate that they are here to stay and will disrupt venture funding.
Regarding the impact of blockchain on an established organization, Oliver says a key aspect is to understand the implications of blockchain on an organization’s target picture? The key questions to ask here are:
First: "What is the implication of blockchain on future products and services and the customer experience?"
Second: “How does blockchain help to make the operational model more efficient?”
Third: “How does blockchain change the way the organization can monetize products and services”.
At the intersection of these three areas the question is: “What are the technology and people capabilities an organization needs to make change happen?” The emphasis should be on solving real world problems. Looking ahead, Oliver highlights the need for a better methodological foundation in token design and tokenomics to leverage the potential of blockchain.
Why is traditional VC dead?
Miriam Neubauer from Catena Capital delivered a wake-up call that we need new formats to keep up with the evolution of funding. Founders need support at the concept stage. Catena Capital investors are crypto veterans who see themselves as “fans” of chosen ideas or startup where they think they will have fun and share a cooperative attitude. They are particularly interested in decentralized exchanges, protocol infrastructure layers, and global momentum.
Three things she mentioned resonated. Let’s break them down.
1) Hype matters: Public opinion and involvement matters. How many people are involved, and how engaged are they? Watching that engagement matters.
2) Jurisdiction matters more than MVP: Developers in the crypto space really need to obtain legal expertise to know if what they are doing can be done from a legal perspective in their respective countries.
3) Integrate tokenomics early, not as an afterthought. Don’t try to fit in the coin at the end of the project. (This is reminiscent of other topics like security and user experience; apply early and often, people!)
// OUTPUT: And the Winners Are...
Ethereum Camp offered dedicated time for teams to focus on developing their solutions:
At the close of the hackathon, a panel of four judges: Torsten Dahmen from Innogy, Simon Schwerin from XAIN, Sebastian Gajek from Weeve, and Martin Buhl from Weeve/NBT evaluated the team prototypes and their delivery based on the following criteria: Innovativeness, Value & USP, Use of Blockchain, and Pitch Presentation
This gave the participants and the community a chance to see how fellow hackathoners approached their challenges and formed their pitch presentations. Having these short, timed presentations gave campers an opportunity to practice public delivery and gave the audience a reliable format to compare those deliverables.
1st place: Reli
A simple yet elegant solution for people to engage in data markets. Pointing to the cost of uncollected data, they want users to collect data about pollution in the air around them, and with that better, more accurate data use it for towards cleaner air for all. The scenario was delivery people out on their bikes collecting this data and sharing it with local city governments who pay for that data as they are invested in rectifying urban air pollution.
2nd place: One Charge
This is a cross-blockchain solution for marketplace participation to “make e-mobility great again!” They team grappled with the reality that we will need more chargers for the rising number if electric cars in the near future. By 2025, it is expected that there will be a need to provide electricity for 1 million e-cars.
3rd place: ToT
Trust of Things (ToT) team members say that to cut through the overwhelm of information online, we need a trusted ranking of information. We need to know which machine is most relevant to listen to. ToT designed a cryptoeconomic protocol for curating trusted rankings.
Apart from healthy competition, participants gained concentrated insights on evolving, complex topics. If you learned something from this recap, just think what you would absorb in person at the next Ethereum Camp 2019! Grow your network and get involved. Stay tuned via Twitter.
Ready to get involved in the NBT community or fast forward your career in IoT and blockchain? With NBT as part of the deHub initiative, you will have direct access to our ecosystem of entrepreneurs, corporate partners, and investors.
Just reach out via our website. Read more about IoT entrepreneurship here. You can also find us on Medium at NBT Thing Tank and Weeve’s World. Get in touch to schedule a visit us at our new offices at Factory Berlin Görlitzer Park.